Restorative Justice: What is it and why should I care?


WHAT IS IT?

Restorative Justice is a concept and a set of practices. The basic concept of Restorative Justice is that crime is a harm that needs to be addressed by the victim, the community and the offender. RJ is also called Transformative or Reformative Justice since it is sometimes hard to think of the process as restoring a broken status quo. In contrast, the existing government criminal justice system is a system of retribution and punishment.

Restorative Justice is a new movement which brings together the faith community and the law enforcement community with a Biblical and indigenous framework for a system of justice. It recognizes that the harm of an offense is primarily an injury to human relationships and our Covenant with God, and secondarily, a violation of secular law.

In the process of Restorative Justice, trained volunteers explore justice options and develop an alternative justice system for their communities based on shared values and goals. When an incident or conflict is brought to the attention of a restorative justice program, all the parties with a stake in the event are invited to come together to resolve, collectively, how to deal with the aftermath of the event and its implications for the future. The program brings willing victims together with repentant offenders, their respective support systems and families, and representative members of the affected community. They are lead by RJ program volunteers to brainstorm ideas for:

WHY SHOULD I CARE?

You should care because:

  • 2.2 million people (738 per 100,000 residents) were in jail or prison in the U.S. as of June 30, 2005.*
  • The above statistic includes an estimated 11.9% of the black male population between 18 and 25 years of age.
  • The prison system is brutal and doesn't even pretend to be rehabilitative anymore.
  • The roots of justice are in a community's resolution of its own problems and a recognition that all people have caused or been affected by harms in their relationships to others.
  • The modern criminal justice system disenfranchises victims and communities.
  • Rehabilitation works best when an offender is given the motivation to attach to his/her community and its support systems.
  • The retributive justice system insulates offenders from the human implications of their actions.
  • The cycle of violence and disenfranchisement on a community and global level can be reduced when people treat each other as valuable human beings and discuss the resolution of issues.
  • There is a movement developing to examine the justice system and its values, mission and goals.
  • Recidivism rates have been drastically reduced for offenders who participate in restorative justice programs.
  • Restorative Justice has Biblical and spiritual roots that preceded the penitentiary and "King's peace" functions of the criminal justice system.
  • Victims and communities regain control over the resolution of issues when the harms caused by an offense can be explored in depth amongst the participants rather than left to an overburdened criminal justice system with few or no ties to the community or people involved.
  • Restorative Justice combines the traditionally conservative philosophy of individual responsibility for crime with the traditionally liberal idea of community responsibility, recognizing that both sides of the debate have seen only part of the answer.
  • Restorative practices can be used to resolve conflict even without the occurrence of an "offense" -- in families, communities, churches and other organizations.
  • Restorative practices teach young people how to be responsible members of their communities.
  • Jesus taught forgiveness and transformation.

*White, Elizabeth, "Number of US Inmates Rises Two Percent", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 22, 2006; http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/052206R.shtml.

Read an informative article on Restorative Justice in Minnesota by Kay Pranis.

For further information about joining the Massachusetts Conference Restorative Justice Task Team or to find out how to bring a Restorative Justice seminar, workshop or speaker to your congregation, contact any of the following members of the Task Team:

Michael Rich, Chairperson    

Rev. Fran Bogle

Noelle Dattilo

Debbie Donaldson

Betty Gitlin-Rich

Mark Seifried

Elliot Stratton   

Kathy Williams 

Rev. Shantia Wright-Gray

Staff Contact:  Rev. Kelly Gallagher