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The Shameful State of Justice Today and a Restorative Approach to Change

Column: Straight Talk
by Nimfa L. Estrellado

The concept of guilt and retribution, which is at the core of our criminal justice system. Guilt implies the value of bad and retribution implies the action of punishing, or, getting even with. We are going to punish the individual who is bad. This is one of the myths of Pure Evil, that the evildoer is evil out of sheer pleasure; one personified often by pop culture media. When we look at individuals in this way, we are setting up a world of we the good guys, and they, the bad guys. Any system divided in this way is going to falter and work against itself. This results in a society of segregated individuals, not a community of human beings.

Since our legal system is set up with attorneys as the intermediary, the offender often tries not to be responsible or accountable. The offender is represented and often takes no ownership in his/her behavior. If the offender is found guilty, the court hands down a judgment that the attorney and offender may not feel is fair. Now the offender feels victimized by the same system he/she violated. The victim and offender both can end up feeling helpless and victimized. One of the unfortunate consequences of feeling powerless and victimized is the desire for Revenge. When we are harmed we all have the human response of wanting to take back our control through some retributive action. It sets up a cycle of revenge and escalating violence.

Our legal system is not consistently fair. This adds to our feelings of victimization and helplessness, regardless of whether or not we were guilty of the offense. Our legal system is set up in such a way that we often go away with the feeling of lose-lose and that leaves open wounds on all sides.

Absolutely! Restorative Justice seeks to heal and restore: Heal the wounds of the victim and the community, and restore that community’s sense of wholeness. This active process also incorporates the offender’s need to be taken back into the community as a now responsible member. Isolation is a dangerous action in any community of human beings. Human beings cannot learn empathy or understanding of others except in the context of relationships. Each individual must relate to their community in some way, good or bad-the choice is personal to each of us.

Restorative Justice seeks accountability and responsibility. Offenders must be freely willing to be accountable for his/her actions. Further, they must be willing to...Turn to p/4

be responsible for an action of restitution. They must make whole what they have broken: The trust of the individual, the community, and the legal system under which we function.

Restorative Justice seeks to repair harm, heal wounds and restore a community’s sense of wholeness and wellbeing. This process creates a positive world of values and actions.

Restorative Justice sees crime as a violation of people and relationships. It is an accountability process that creates obligations to make things right. It involves the victim, the offender and the community in the process of finding solutions. Restorative Justice sees life from the bright perspective of resolution and restoration. It promotes wholeness, individually and from the larger perspective of community; whether it is in the context of a classroom, a small neighborhood or a global community. True human beings want life, liberty, and the greatest degree of happiness possible-this can only happen in within the framework of solutions that are win-win. This takes the ability to reason, the courage to be accountable for our own actions, the willingness to make amends and the strength to forgive.

Any circumstance, any event, any relationship in life can use Restorative Justice principles to achieve wholeness and resolution. The basic principles involve developing empathy for other’s feelings, through understanding how our behaviors impact others; by accepting responsibility for our own behaviors and acknowledging our accountability to make things right.

Restorative Justice principles can be used at home, in schools, business, in communities and taught within correctional facilities; even those with significant learning difficulties. The basic tenants of the Restorative Justice process are that it is both flexible and creative. The process must work for the participants directly involved. It must stress reflection, accountability, making amends as best one can and being open to the need to heal.