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'Justice' can take different forms: Traditional punishment isn't always the best way

Nov 29, 2012

from the editorial in the Des Moines Register:

....Charleston accused McCarthy of paying only “lip service” to restorative justice. McCarthy insisted Charleston doesn’t even understand what that term means. “You need to get a book and look it up,” he said.

That might not be a bad idea for many of us. What are they talking about? Howard Zehr wrote the widely cited, best-selling “The Little Book of Restorative Justice” for people “who have heard the term and are curious about what it implies.”


Readers willing to spend an hour or so with the book’s 71 pages may find themselves contemplating society’s current approach to delivering “justice” in cases of wrongdoing. We tend to focus on punishment, whether that means expelling a kid from school or imposing a lengthy prison sentence. Elected officials, including lawmakers, county prosecutors and sheriffs, think the public wants them to “give offenders what they deserve.”

Where is the victim in that equation? Does it discourage offenders from future wrongdoing? Restorative justice focuses more on ensuring offenders take responsibility for the harm they have done. It seeks ways to make things right for those who have been wronged.

This isn’t just a philosophy. Its principles are increasingly being used by police and court officials, particularly in dealing with youth. Perhaps a teenager meets with the person whose car he vandalized. He pays for damage, apologizes and recognizes that his stupidity hurt an actual person. Rather than being a financial burden to all of us in detention, he is given a chance to pay society back with community service.

Restorative justice is a reminder that there is more than one way to teach someone a lesson.

Read the whole editorial.

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Chris Weathers
Chris Weathers says:
Dec 03, 2012 12:26 PM

I was convicted of aggrevated dui and vehicular homicide in 2001 and participated in what was the first RJ case in Taos NM. I now did my time and now volunteer in Restorative Justice circles whenever I can. I am totally impressed with the effect it has (esecially on young people) when they can hear my story and gleen some hope for themselves. Offfenders sent to prison all too often lose hope and return to old habits. With the restorative process, however, there are ways to keep a support group of accountability with an offender upon release while he/she re-integrates into the community.

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