Restoring Community

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Marilyn Armour and Stephanie Frogge, restorative justice practitioners, respond the the New York Times Magazine's story a few weeks ago that told the story of a restorative conference for the families of both victim and offender after a young man murdered his fiance. They write:

As restorative justice practitioners, our initial reaction to the article was one of jubilation. “A piece about restorative justice in a major newspaper … they like it, they really like it!” But our excitement quickly dimmed.

Initial concerns voiced in the article included not knowing “anybody who does this level of victim-offender dialogue” and the belief that it couldn’t be done in homicide cases. Yet victim/offender dialogues in crimes of severe violence, including murder, are common practice in at least 27 states.

Most troubling was the article’s assertion that there aren’t many restorative justice programs and those that do exist are “on the margins of the justice system.”

In fact, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of restorative justice programs and initiatives across the country, including those in Austin. The American Bar Association has an alternative dispute resolution and restorative justice committee and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences has its own restorative justice section.

Restorative justice takes many forms — not just victim/offender dialogue. And by most any measure, restorative justice in its myriad forms is successful.

The article refers to one 2007 recidivism study, but there are overwhelming data demonstrating higher levels of satisfaction with the process for both victims and offenders, increased trust in the criminal justice process, greater empathy, a greater likelihood that offenders will adhere to the conditions placed on them, including restitution, affirmative mental health outcomes for victim survivors, decreased recidivism and, for those who do re-offend, arrests for less violent crimes.

And restorative justice usually involves far less expensive options and outcomes than the traditional criminal justice system. Far less. The adjudication of Grosmaire’s killer is a case in point.

In the event someone’s missed the economic realities of the past two or three years, the criminal justice system is bankrupting local municipalities and entire states. Never mind the human costs of a punitive, adversarial model of justice, our state and local budgets simply cannot continue in the current mode. Some criminal cases, maybe a lot of cases, must be handled in less expensive ways.

Can restorative justice play a role in criminal justice? The resounding answer is yes. It can, it does, and to save us from our current practices, it must.

The full story can be found at the Austin, Texas, newspaper, The Statesman.