Monday, July 18, 2011

Reparative Justice

Every prisoner behind bars was once some one's baby.
   Justice is a crazy concept.  We've read recently the story of the boy shot in the head in California, Scottie has shown us the stories of numerous people being chased and chastised even after fulfilling the punishment set out by the judge, and you've all seen my banner for young Jordan who is still fighting for his life in jail.   The thought of putting someone in prison would seem to some to be the ends of Justice, but in most cases it's simply the end of caring.
  If you look into a criminal case, the report will read "We the People of _____ vs. Mr. ABC".  It is always "We the People...", as if the prosecutor, the people's champion in this particular little joust, really cares and is truly representing the injured party.  This is the classic adversarial process, in which the people of the community have felt the injury and are therefore seeking redress, and yet most victims and their families will tell you that they feel completely forgotten in the process and no one really seems to care what they think.
  Justice can become the faceless machine process where little is cared for the why and the who, only the what.  In some cases, perhaps that is necessary as the painful process of dealing in such waters would quickly take a toll.  Of course, it would:  These are lives at stake!  And yet, a disheartened and detracted approach survives the morality of the situation when the expediency takes center position.
  Truth be told, it's hard to care.  It's difficult to be human in situations where humanity has failed and hard choices are necessary.  Ask any parent who has ever spanked a child and they will tell you there have been times when hurting the child to avoid allowing a greater hurt to develop has been the hardest thing they've ever done.  Ask another question and you'll find that parents who have grounded a child feel themselves as the ones being grounded as they are quickly become the gaoler and forced to enforce their proscription of justice.  Jail guards, judges, prosecutors, all are people and all have hearts.  In the end, if they don't harden their hearts to the inhumanity of the process they soon begin to see the defendants and prisoners as actual people
  The interesting thing about the adversarial process in justice is that sooner or later, the defendant....and this is going to sound really crazy here....becomes very defensive.  He begins to realize that he is not looking at some utopian  mommy or daddy who care about him and want to simply teach him a lesson to avoid further problems.  He begins to quickly realize that this is his life in jeopardy, be it a short stint in the pokey or a life long change of residence.  He begins to realize he is in a corner, in a box if you will, and there are a whole group of people hungry for his blood.  He begins to put up walls, become aggressive, change his views of the situation and seek to find ways out of it.  The concept of accepting the consequences of his actions pale beside the instinct for self preservation.  If this soul is in such a position, he garners a champion of his own to fight the system and the system's champions who placed him here.
  I imagine you are thinking 'so what' about now.  Well, I thought it might be necessary to lay all of that out to get to this point:  Restorative Justice. 

  We don't use the concept of RJ in this country, no to really speak of.  It's time consuming, it's hard because it has no crazy little political slogans like "zero tolerance", "mandatory minimums" and such.  It's heart-wrenching as it forces people to open themselves to the humanity of the tragedy and lose the shield of vengeful wrath.

  I hope I've interested you in the notion.  I'd like to speak further on this over the coming posts and such.  In the mean time, check out this link as a beginning primer for the concept and let me know what you think.