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From death row to restorative justice

Dec 02, 2013

from the article by Marina Cantacuzino:

Restorative justice is a system that fundamentally views crime as injury rather than wrong-doing, and justice as healing rather than punishment. Whilst visiting New York, Minneapolis, Hawaii and Texas (thanks to receiving a Winston Churchill travelling fellowship) I've uncovered some remarkable US-based programs that bear this out. But as founding director of The Forgiveness Project, a UK-based charity that delivers a restorative justice programme in prisons, I'm also surprised by how often the death penalty is central to the conversation.

Rev. Cathy Harrington explained to me that whilst forgiveness is not something she can consider for the man who murdered her beloved 26 year-old-daughter, Leslie, in 2002, she has never supported capital punishment because to be involved in someone else's murder would only create more pain and more victims. When both her sons were initially in favour of the death penalty, Cathy contacted Sister Helen Prajean (of Dead Man Walking fame) who encouraged her to try to find meaning in her daughter's senseless and brutal death by writing Leslie's "gospel". As the years passed Cathy has been able to detect glimmers of meaning, mostly by living and working among the poor. These are what she describes as moments of grace: inexplicable connections based on a common humanity and insights that have shed light on her stumbling path.

...For 29 years Rev. Lopez ministered to the incarcerated on Death Row. Nowadays, however, he prefers to help out his friend John Sage, whose sister was brutally murdered in 1993 and who founded the remarkably successful Bridges to Life rehabilitation program which operates in 30 Texas prisons plus several juvenile and transitional housing facilities. During my time in Texas I attend three Bridges to Life sessions in three different facilities and witness first hand the power of this victim impact program delivered by an army of volunteers, many of whom are victims of crime themselves. Like the volunteers, the inmates are almost all believers, seeking God's mercy to support them on their distance journey. The helpful hand of God is something entirely new to me given that the majority of the offenders taking part in The Forgiveness Project program profess no faith. But it's different here in Texas, as I am reminded more than once. This is the Bible belt.

However, the Bridges to Life program also has many similarities, as does the peer driven ManAlive violence prevention intervention in Austin that I witness, and the Huikahi Restorative Circles re-entry model for offenders in Hawaii, not to mention the VOCARE program in Minneapolis that brings together victims, offenders and community members and the T.A.S.T.E program for parolees in Long Island. These programs all bear testimony to the possibility of redemption. They share the belief that self-healing starts with accountability and accountability starts with acknowledging the pain and suffering of your victims.

Read the full article.

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