Volunteers accomplish a variety of tasks in our communities, but those who give their time to restorative justice programs may do more than meets the eye.
As we recognize Restorative Justice week in B.C. this week, we should take time to rethink our idea of justice.
The biblical credo of “… An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” is a far cry from today’s somewhat less clear definition.
Traditional theories of justice run from retribution to deterrence, rehabilitation to incarceration and each has its place in our judicial system.
We all want violent offenders off our streets and all criminals made accountable for their actions. We want a justice system that is fair to all of those involved, both offenders and victims.
Too often, a traditional approach to justice fails to change the attitude of the offender, much less give them an appreciation of the harm they’ve done. Those incarcerated may be even more dangerous upon their release and recidivism rates are high. Victims are often left feeling frustrated by the judicial process.
When we look at justice, we frequently focus on punishment. Making sure the victim feels the punishment fits the crime and the chance for reparation are often overlooked. This is where restorative justice has the greatest impact.
In cases where the practice is used, the victim plays an active role in how the perpetrator is dealt with. This allows the victim’s voice to be heard from the beginning of the process, unlike the court system, which often leaves victim impact statements to follow a conviction.
For the restorative justice system to work, however, requires offenders to admit their guilt and show remorse, victims who are willing to use the alternative to the justice system, and a supportive community for both.
We are fortunate to have volunteers run restorative justice programs in our communities. But with the court system overburdened, it’s time for government to invest in expanding these programs, both to relieve pressure on the courts and to help deliver justice over the long term.