Restorative Justice or Punitive Justice   Leave a comment

Restorative Justice or Punitive Justice

An e-mail has been circulating for the past couple of years that contains a number of pictures of a prison.   A very nice prison.   At first look it could be a very nice hotel or office building.   As one progresses toward the end of the pictures it becomes more clear that it is a prison as the cells tend to give it away.   After the last picture there is a statement which says that, the then Senator Barack Obama, had been instrumental in the promotion of this prison in his home state of Illinois.   The author of the statement also says that he thought that prisons were for punishment and that to spend so much on such an elegant facility to house criminals was a waste of tax payer dollars.   It was an attempt at criticism against President Obama and his fiscal policies.

I was offended by the e-mail, not so much because of the negativism against President Obama, but because of the insinuation that convicted felons are less than human.   I have long felt that prisons were for the rehabilitation and a restorative process for those convicted of a crime, not only for simple punishment.   I later found out that the photos in the e-mail were actually of a prison in Australia, not in Illinois, USA.   The then Senator Obama had nothing to do with it at all.   The entire story was false.

 Still, I am concerned that the United States penal system, is based primarily on punishment rather than a restorative system that would result in a successful return of convicted felons to society.   Australia, and several other developed countries of the world, have come to understand that restorative justice is, in most cases, far superior to punitive justice.   When restorative justice is administered, the rights of all concerned are addressed.   The perpetrator is called upon to acknowledge the pain/harm/suffering/loss caused to the victim.   Sometimes he/she is allowed to face and apologize and to “make right” as much as possible the wrong.   The victim is allowed some voice in the dissolution of the case.   The concerns of the larger society are also addressed.   There is opportunity for reconciliation and healing.   The process is sometimes long and tedious.   However the benefits are great.   Recidivism is low and the offender is more easily and quickly returned to society as a contributing citizen.   The United States of American has more civilian prisoners per capital locked up than any other developed nation.   This is primarily due to the inefficiency of our judicial system in its ability to rehabilitate and restore human dignity.  We, the USA, has a predominately punitive justice system.

 There are many excellent resources regarding restorative justice.   Howard Zehr is a renowned author and expert in the field.   He has written a number of books which define and explain the concept of restorative justice.   One such book is Changing lenses.   Mr Zehr has studied the restorative justice systems of some of the developed nations of the world.   There are also other resources available.   You may contact the Mediation Center in Independence at 816-461-8255 for more information.   A search on the web will reveal many others.   I would encourage anyone interested in law and order and a civilized society to check out this concept of restorative justice.   It would be well worth your while.


Posted March 5, 2010 by terryflowersblog in Justice System

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