Most would agree that crime takes its toll on a community. Whether incidents of vandalism, dangerous speeding, robbery or loss of life, the stress of worrying about personal, family and neighborhood safety has prompted many in the community to ask critical questions of the justice system. Residents want to know what is being done to punish those committing these acts. However, they are equally interested in understanding how to stop repeat offenders, how to better respond to victims of crime and what should be the community’s role?
The concept of restorative justice is one pathway to transformational reform in repairing the damage caused by crime and answering some of those questions. Specifically, Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet.
With an emphasis on accountability, offenders are given a chance to understand the impact their crime(s) have had on others to include the victim, the victim’s family and the community. It is an opportunity for the offender to talk with the victim or the family member of a victim about the crime they committed. In other cases, the offender is talking with volunteers from the community about their crimes. Either way, Restorative Justice is intended to help offenders make amends for the harm caused by crime. It is also a time for the victim or their family to talk about what happened to them and how their lives have been impacted.
Restorative justice is a different way of thinking about how we respond to crime, but it is not a new thing. In fact, there have been such programs in place in communities around the country and world for more than 40 years.
We are making a continued effort to raise awareness and extol the benefits of this approach. The approach is based on values and principles that include inclusion, facilitated dialogue, truth, reparations, and humanity. These practices can be used with adults and youth. When used properly they can prevent or manage conflict or heal or address damaged relationships.
Milwaukee has a number of great community partners that employ restorative justice strategies. The most recent addition embraces a youth court that would allow an advisory council comprised of youth and teens, to deal with some municipal violations incurred by teens. The teens that go through the process have a better chance of receiving reduced warrants for unpaid citations. It is a way to keep youth out of the pipeline to prison and benefits everyone involved.
Data supports that restorative justice practices reduce recidivism, increases safety, costs less than traditional justice processes, and creates stronger communities. Victims are providing a voice, empowered and can get a degree of satisfaction from interacting with their offender. Finally, the offender has a chance to make things right, pay their debt and in some cases, put the situation behind them. If they can’t do that, at least they will more fully understand the damage they caused.