by Jack, CLF member incarcerated in Texas
A shower after a long workout…. A drink after a near accident…. A pint of ice cream after a breakup with a loved one…. We all have ways of restoring ourselves after a physical, mental or emotional trauma. An act of restoration involves giving back, or returning. It is giving back, not going back, for things can never be totally the same or “like new.”
Restorative justice is an act of giving back, not going back, for nothing will ever be the same as before the damage was done. Most justice is seen as retribution, or revenge. The victim is to be made whole again by the act of removing the perpetrator from society, punishing them in the hopes that by this act the victim will gain some kind of restoration, while the perpetrator’s years of incarceration may deter them from future misdeeds.
However, this system does nothing to truly restore the victim’s sense of loss and harm, and it produces even more victims. For every incarcerated person there is likely to be a spouse and children who are made destitute by the imprisonment. There are children who grow up without one of their parents in the home. And the larger system is victimized by what is so often the family’s need to rely on services such as food stamps and public health services, poverty made worse by the expense of the prisoner’s phone calls and other daily needs over the years.
Those who must manage the prisoners are also victimized by the rules and by being seen by their charges as captors. These guards then go home and may find it difficult to adopt the role of loving and listening parents and spouses. The rate of substance abuse and family dysfunction is high among prison guards, creating yet another generation of victims.
Most of all, the actual victim of the crime is not restored, for vengeance has no restorative qualities. They may well live in fear that they will once again become victims. Their lives are forever changed.
Restorative justice gives the victim the opportunity to take control, to give up that feeling of powerlessness. They may well be able to face their perpetrators and let them know just how their actions have caused damage—often permanent harm. It allows victims to be part of the legal process, not, as so often happens, becoming victimized once again by a process in which they have no say in the outcome. In many cases restorative justice gives the perpetrator the opportunity to perform acts of contrition to try to make whole, to restore, the lives they have harmed through their actions.
Restorative justice is often able to divert the perpetrators from long-term incarceration, and from the high social cost that goes along with it.
The goal of restorative justice is to make whole that which was torn, with each of the participants emerging stronger than before, able to enjoy a sense of peace, responsibility and unity.