Thursday, March 15, 2012

Healing the Pain of Crime

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Healing the Pain of Crime

The American justice system has viewed criminal behavior as a crime against “the state,” leaving crime victims with no input into the legal process of the administration of justice in today’s courts. Restorative justice today recognizes the act of crime as being directed against individual people. Restorative justice is based on resolving conflict and making everything connected to the crime “whole again”, thus healing the effects, restoring back to original condition, and making amends to all affected by the crime.

Retributive justice focuses on punishment, whereas the new paradigm of Restorative justice accents accountability, healing and closure. This is accomplished through face-to-face contact between offender and victim. This relies on an old and widely used practice used today. Known as victim-offender mediation. Developing a restitution plan, allowing the offender to hear the total impact the act had upon the victim, and sometimes the community, allows the healing process to begin (Umbreit 16).

Many Restorative justice programs recognize the need for an offender to admit his or her guilt before moving on in the process of restoration.

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Once, the guilt has been established, a Family Group Conference as part of the corrections process may refer the case hears the court. Offenders and victims meet with volunteer mediators to

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discuss what affect the crime had upon their lives, while expressing concerns and feelings directly to the offender. A restitution agreement is then worked out between the two parties involved.

Family group conferencing is based on the same rationale as victim-offender mediation. Only two differences apply. Conferencing often relies on police, probation, or social services for the organization and facilitation. Secondly, extended ranges of people are involved, friends, family, co-workers, teachers, and other supporters from the community that will take collective responsibility for the offender and for the completion of the agreement.

An old custom-called a “Sentencing circle”, originated in traditional Native Canada and Native American peacemaking. Circles involve and are open to everyone in the community; these circles address the underlying causes of crime, ask for recommendations, and accept offenders` responsibilities. Members in the circle must all agree on the decided outcome.

Minnesota uses circles in all communities both rural and urban. Citizen volunteers handle all details; in addition, they provide “keepers” as leaders of the discussion. Judges refer the cases. Committees make the finale decision on acceptance. The finale decision is passed on to the judge as sentencing recommendations. Some cases, all actors in the courtroom participate, and then the finale agreement becomes the final sentence. Minnesota has been the pioneer in Restorative Justice; in 14 the state hired Kay Pranis as full-time Restorative Justice Planner, along with the creation of the “ Restorative Justice Initiative” in 1. The initiative offers training in restorative justice principals and practices, provides technical assistance to communities in designing and implementing practices, and creates networks of professionals and activists to share knowledge and provide support. (MN DOC. Exec. papers on corrections, Sept. 1)

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Restorative justice is expressed through a wide range of policies and practices directed toward offenders and crime victims, including victim support and advocacy, restitution, community service victim impact panels, victim-offender-meditation, circle sentencing, family group conferencing, community boards that meet with offenders to determine appropriate sanctions, victim empathy classes for offenders, and community policing.

Restorative justice programs and training of the public are now taking place in all fifty states, also including European countries, New Zealand, and South Africa. More than four of five Minnesotans have expressed an interest in participating in a face-to-face mediation session with the offender. From this survey we can conclude that the public is far less vindictive than previously thought. Finally, the skyrocketing cost of corrections, incarcerations for example, is leading a growing number of legislatures and policy makers to reconsider the wisdom of the current retributive system of justice, which relies so heavily upon incarceration, while largely ignoring the needs of crime victims. (Umbreit 16, 15b, 14a; Wright 11; Zehr 10)

While denouncing criminal behavior, restorative justice emphasizes the need to treat offenders with respect and to reintegrate them into the larger community in ways that can lead to lawful behavior. A portion of the vast amount of qualitative data collected in studies has been summarized. The potential for additional qualitative analysis of the data is enormous.

The relatively equal number of positive and negative themes is not reflective of the distribution within the data, since the data are overwhelmingly positive. They revealed that a great majority of participants were satisfied with mediation and considered it a positive experience. (Boris Kalanji. MSW UofM doctoral student). Respondents indicated greater concern for restitution and prevention and prevention strategies that address underlying issues of social injustice than for costly retribution.

Agreements that were reached by both parties and deemed fair are negotiated in nine of ten cases that entered mediation. A number of programs report successful completion of restitution, ranging from 7 to 8

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percent (Coates &Gehm 18; Galaway 188. A large number of agreements have resulted in low rates of recidivism Being involved in a circle, a conference, or victim-offender, reliving their victimizations may be emotionally exhausting, but victims say they feel empowered and are strengthened by the experience. The experience allows the victims to vent their feelings and frustrations and possibly make a difference in a criminal’s behavior These personal stories “humanize” the impact of criminal behavior for offenders, teaches offenders the long and short-term effects of crime on real people, in which may help develop responsibility and accountability in offenders.

I believe this form of corrections will stay in process for a long time, along with the many others already in place. Only when more people get involved with the understanding that, “ this effort requires forgiveness and passion towards the offender”.

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