Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Restorative Justice

I was in Kingston for business yesterday but I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with our son, Isaac, who was in the city from Montreal. Isaac, a seminary student at MCGill is participating in a week-long course on restorative justice. Part of the concept of restorative justice is that there are many circumstances where this form of justice can be more effective than our system of punitive justice. Often we incarcerate people for long periods of time during which there is no attempt at rehabilitation and certainly no effort towards reconciliation with those who have been harmed. In our understandable anger at those who have committed serious crimes we speak of "locking them up and throwing away the key" or fume that the death penalty should be reinstated.

Many Christian churches offer programs which explore alternatives to retribution. Isaac's was only part way through his first day, but he said that the group of participants alone was worth it. There are people from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there to address the ongoing pain of atrocities committed in those countries. There are participants who have harmed others and some who have been harmed, all seeking a different response to those our societies usually uphold.

In Native tradition and current practice there are healing circles where people are brought together to attempt reconciliation. Healing and forgiveness are at the core of Christ's reconciling love and Restorative Justice programs are an attempt to open the door to these possibilities.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that putting those who have harmed and those who have been harmed together in a controlled supportive setting is the most likely first step towards understanding. I read somewhere the phrase, "understanding means nothing to forgive" and although out of its context it doesn't quite hold up as well, it does place understanding as a step in forgiveness. I think that understanding really boils down to giving up our resistance to seeing ourselves in the other. The person who has harmed must see those he\she harmed from a new perspective which seems obvious but also those who have been the victims benefit from seeing the other as equally human and vulnerable. Easier to philosophize about though, than to actually put in practice.

Laurie said...

I took the Restorative Justice program at Queens. It was a great learning experience. I also worked with the John Howard Society with Justice Circles for youth. Putting the offender and victim together to talk and to ask forgiveness is hard, emotional, a lot of hard work, but wonderful in the end. Most times people just need to be reminded that someone cares or is ready to listen.

Nancy said...

Seems that this is the "buzz" of the times. In the educational world we call it Restorative Practice, and as a member of a staff opening a new school in September we will all be doing a 2 day workshop on Restorative Practice in August. It will be interesting.