Letter: "We Already Have Restorative Justice..." (Part 1) |CITY|
Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-19 02:08.
Many of us have had the experience of talking about restorative justice with someone who immediately says, "We already have that," and then goes on to describe a restitution or community service programme. It is almost as though people have a checklist of innovations, and they have ticked the box for restorative justice.
In a news article this morning, a city official says that restorative justice is not working. Faced with chronic vandalism by juveniles in a park, the city had "tried to show [the vandals] the error of their ways and punish them by requiring community service."
He concluded that they would have to turn to increased fines imposed on the juveniles and on their parents as well. "If these rules are adopted, one incident can cost parents $500 in fines and thousands more in restitution."
Of course, Mr. Zuleger does not have a very developed understanding of restorative justice. He not only thinks of it as a single programme -- community service -- but he also considers it a penalty designed to help kids go straight. His conclusion that restoration doesn't work leads to his proposal to dust off (and increase) financial penalties, and to apply them to parents as well as children.
For some reason people understand that there are degrees of punitiveness but don't in terms of restorativeness. Politicians announce that they will get tough by increasing prison sentences, or by making sure that people who are now sentenced to probation go to prison instead.
But people don't typically think about restorativeness. Something is either restorative or not. This is even true of those of us who promote restorative justice. When confronted with the Mr. Zulegers of the world we insist that community service, restitution and other potentially restorative outcomes are NOT restorative justice at all. We then add that victim-offender encounters ARE restorative. We may understand the complexities, but to Mr. Zuleger we have merely substituted one programme for another.
There are a number of advantages to thinking in terms of restorativeness. One is that our restorative efforts can always be improved. Another is that we can respond restoratively even when victim-offender encounters are not possible (as, for example, when the offender has not been caught). A third is that we can begin at just about any point in the criminal justice system and consider ways it might be changed in a restorative direction. Finally, it opens up the option of incremental change, which may be critical to the acceptance of restorative justice.
What does it mean for something to become more or less restorative? How do we measure restorativeness? We'll take a look at that on Monday.
Let's stay in touch,
Dan Van Ness
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