Redemption for Offenders and Victims

OFTEN, RESTORATIVE JUSTICE is an adjunct to the criminal justice system or occurs years after that process has concluded. But it can also be a stand-alone alternative. There are few pre-determined expectations other than open-minded and full-throated participation on all sides and a commitment to accountability by the offender.

There are so many misunderstandings about what forgiveness is: that if you forgive that means you are not holding people accountable or forgetting about the harm that was done to you.” But the victims who do forgive, he says, talk about it as a kind of personal liberation, a gift as much to themselves as to the offenders. Although most restorative justice programs are not overtly religious, for many it is a profoundly spiritual experience. Many describe participating in a restorative justice process as one of the most intense and life-altering experiences of their lives.

These concepts are foreign to many accustomed to a justice system modeled on retribution, usually in the form of lengthy prison sentences and permanent social ostracism. And yet, restorative justice was practiced for centuries on our soil by Native Americans, and it is widespread in other cultures. Beginning in the 1970s, it was rediscovered by activists like Scholar Howard Zehr, who were searching for ways to reform the system. Over the years, restorative justice has slowly gained a certain level of acceptance in pockets of the country. Today, it is used in a small number of jurisdictions across the United States and pilot programs have been launched in others, with the hope that a show of successful results will allow it to gain a permanent foothold.

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