Restorative Justice: Restoring Right Relationships through Fairness and Equity
The word “justice” is used in many ways in our contemporary society. It comes from the Latin word meaning “lawful” and the dictionary defines it as “The principle of moral rightness; equity.”
In the pursuit of fairness, the criminal justice system has recently been using the concept of restorative justice. Simply put, this idea is that when a crime is committed, society should recognize that more than just property or material loss occurs, but relationships are also destroyed.
Here is a brief example of applying restorative justice to a crime by a young man, Michael, who was 16 when he set fire to a local grocery store in his home town. The fire caused $1,500 worth of damage. Michael got caught, and he was sent to juvenile court.
If we think about how the traditional criminal justice system would most likely have handled this, Michael would probably have been charged with arson (a felony), possibly charged as an adult, and likely would have been sent to juvenile detention or jail for some period of time.
Taking a different tack with punishment, a mediator met first with the store owner to learn how the fire had impacted him and to ask what he needed to address the harm and “set things right.” Insurance coverage repaired the damage, but Michael has spent the last three years of his probation continuing his high school education, participating in group therapy, and working every weekend in the grocery store as a night stocker for his restitution.
Clearly, while the damage cannot be undone, the repairing of a relationship has begun between Michael and the larger community and storeowner.
How could we “restore” a relationship where some breach has occurred due to our actions (or theirs)? This might have occurred at work, at home or in our neighborhood.
Restorative justice is a means of re-establishing right relationships, and may be the foundation for fairness and equity in a much broader sense than just determining right and wrong.
October is justice month for our Sawaya Value Award, and we’d love to meet someone especially deserving! If you have a recommendation of someone you’d like to see recognized for modeling justice in their work and/or personal life, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about them.
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