Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Restorative Justice: Small Group Discussions Continue

Our discussion group was not shy and did not lack for ideas!

Third in a series about Restorative Justice

If you have been following this series of posts regarding Restorative Justice, you know that there was an event at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.  Part of the program included small group discussions led by speakers featured as part of the afternoon’s presentation.  There have been so many items on our small group’s list of problems that one post was insufficient.  Hence, we continue today:

Our group was given three questions to ponder and discuss:
·    Is there a problem?
·    What could Restorative Justice offer?
·    How could Restorative Justice be implemented?

We weren’t a shy bunch; there were lively, animated contributions from every participant and much agreement.  You might recall that our discussion group was made up of offenders and people of every walk of life from the community at large.

What might Restorative Justice offer?

We concluded that Restorative Justice-bringing an offender, his victim, and the entire community together to have every need met, including discipline and education, as well as accountability-would most assuredly help to heal many wounded lives.  No one believed this would be an easy task.  Feelings run deep and healing the wounds caused by crime is not easily or swiftly resolved.  Those who would implement this type of justice in lieu of Retributive Justice-which is what is now in place in Nebraska-would need to come together in a spirit of truth and love.  Not everyone will be eager to do so.

Another feature of this concept will be a stronger sense of peace and unity throughout the community, including the prison population.  Relieving the stress of guilt and shame will help those who are incarcerated concentrate on their own personal transformation with higher levels of empathy for their victims and the community at large.  Victims who feel heard and respected will understand that their needs will be met, too, and that will be nourishing to them and their families.  Everyone will have hope.

How, then, might Restorative Justice be implemented?

This type of justice is hard at work in some areas.  It seems to be a well guarded secret, while media reports of crime continue to dominate headlines and newscasts.  Media’s job, after all, is to sell their product so they sensationalize the bad things in society and overlook the good news.

Our group agreed that Restorative Justice needs to start behind the prison walls, with every offender owning up to his or her crime and taking responsibility for their own actions.  From the inside out, there would ideally be programs in place to support what Restorative Justice calls for.  Then, and only then, would the victim feel respected and heard.  Following that, the community could then feel as if they could lend their support and help the process in any way possible.

What, if anything IS being done to implement Restorative Justice?

Former gang members who have drastically transformed their lives from criminal activity to contributing to society in meaningful and positive ways are already moving about in groups of students to steer young people away from gangs and get them into programs that are more appropriate. 

People who are interested in getting Restorative Justice to replace the punitive methods employed by Retributive Justice are working diligently with Nebraska legislators, city councils, youth groups, support groups, churches and ministers and clubs within prison walls to educate people.

As a shining example of community support, Omaha has myriad clusters of community based activities, such as weekly meetings to inform one another about the activities and goals of helping support youth and their families throughout Omaha.  There are a number of networks who help to reintegrate offenders back into the community by assisting with employment, budgeting, housing, and transportation so as to reduce recidivism.  There are people helping other people on a one-to-one basis to aid felons in continuing transformation of their lives.  There is a mountain of assistance available just for the asking in order to gain computer skills, to complete job applications, to find housing and become an integral, valuable, contributing member of the community.  Help is also available for obtaining help providing food and clothing. 

These kinds of things could happen in ANY community!  By coming together with open minds, open hearts and open arms, we can put Restorative Justice firmly in place.  When that happens, we can be sure to minimize crime as well as recidivism. The quality of human life will be maximized to the fullest extent possible.

What’s it going to take, then?
·    Offender
·    Victim
·    Community
Meet the needs of the above list of people in truth and love and you’ve got yourself a mighty fine situation.  Continue in this line of thinking and behaving and the old retribution system will be outdated, outmoded, and out voted!  It will slink away into the annals of history, unneeded.

It rather smacks of peace on earth.  Don't you think so, too? 

The next post will summarize this concept and the event that showcased it.  We so appreciate your comments, questions, and yes, even your criticism.  

You are always welcome to comment anonymously.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Restorative Justice: Small Group Discussions

Would we need so many prisons if we implemented Restorative Justice? 

 *Second in a series of posts about Restorative Justice

Previously we have explained that Restorative Justice is accomplished by joining forces with an offender, a victim and the victim’s family, and the community.  It has been demonstrated that by working together, much healing can take place.  The offender will be accountable, the victim’s needs can be identified and met and the community can feel safe because balance will have been achieved.

When the 7th Step Club at Tecumseh State Correctional Facility hosted a symposium to elucidate the public, there were presentations given by inmates and following these eloquent presentations we were divided into small groups to discuss the matter in depth.

Each of the speakers was a Group Leader and took careful notes from the group’s input.  We were asked to answer these three questions:
1.    Is there a problem?
2.    What can Restorative Justice offer?
3.    How can Restorative Justice be implemented?

Did our group identify any problems?

Our group agreed that recidivism indicates there are problems.  Prison overcrowding is an issue.  Punitive action does not help people “get better”.  Incarceration, by its nature, removes hope.  Simple punishment-aka incarceration-affects all the stakeholders, which includes the offender, the victim and the community.

What is now in place in Nebraska is RETRIBUTIVE Justice, which, by definition is punitive and not disciplinary or instructional.  This means there is little or no opportunity or encouragement for education, enlightenment or transformation.  

Society prefers placing offenders of every crime into “boxes” and forgetting about them or their needs.  This might be because society does not know any other remedy.

It is nearly impossible to forge a career with a conviction in one’s past.  There are issues surrounding education; one of the issues is logistically making room for educational pursuits.  Overcrowded facilities further complicate this issue, as do society’s hesitance to accept offenders after their incarceration.  In addition, those who are incarcerated lack many basic skills and tools to perform well in society.  They won’t necessarily have computer skills or they may lack training for various jobs.  Unless felons are successful in life “on the streets” they are likely to make their way behind prison walls again.

Are there resources in place as solutions?

During our group’s dialogue we learned from our fellow group participants that there are many community based programs available to help integrate offenders back into the community. The issue with these programs is that they are duplicitous and those returning to the community are not likely to know about their existence.  

Were there other considerations?

One topic that popped up again and again in our group was the issue of having programs mandated for inmates.  The inmates are instructed that they must have these programs in order to qualify for parole or release but those programs are unavailable or closed to them!  The excuses the inmates hear have to do with lack of money, lack of materials, lack of room.  The FEELING is that the system wants to keep incarcerated individuals in place in order to satisfy employment requirements at state-run facilities.

There are so many more items we addressed; further posts will continue in this vein.

Do YOU have someone close to you who has been incarcerated?  If so, you may be familiar with many of the issues brought to bear in our small group discussion.   You may have gleaned information, insights, and solutions that might benefit others.  There is much more to be said about this important topic; subsequent posts will address the above list of questions and a summary, so please return to read more about Restorative Justice.

It would be wonderful to have your comments.  You are even welcome to do so anonymously.

Connie Baum

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Restorative Justice

If an offender, a victim, and a community come together behind prison walls, can healing take place?    

*This is the first in a series of posts about Restorative Justice...

The Normanator and I were treated like royalty when we were part of a group of guests attending the Tecumseh State Correctional Facility, the site for a symposium sponsored by the 7th Step Club.  Members of 7th Step are working diligently to eradicate recidivism-return to prison.

We were escorted by officers of the facility to the gymnasium where a welcoming committee greeted us and offered us warm hospitality.  There was assigned seating, arranged in a circle and a simple program agenda waited on each chair.

This event was the culmination of a college credit class in Restorative Justice, taught at the prison by Professor Kelly Asmussen of Peru State College.  Fifteen students and fifteen incarcerated men met weekly to study Restorative Justice.  The prisoners were eager to share all they had learned with John Q. Public.

Restorative Justice?  What IS that?

This subject seems to have been a well guarded secret.  You may  be familiar with Restorative Justice or you may know it as Reparative Justice.  By either name, the whole concept is for offenders, victims and communities to come together to mend the damage caused when someone breaks the law.  It may be a simple situation where resolution can come quickly.  It may require much time and a lot of hard work on all three sides.

Our group heard from four eloquent speakers who had participated in the professor's class.  One of the speakers, a Mohawk Indian, talked about how Native Americans deal with those who behave outside societal or tribal norms to heal the effects of their offense.  We were told that the offender is kept separate from the rest of the tribe.  The one who committed an offense might live with the Medicine Man to receive herbs and other remedies to heal his Spirit and bring balance in to the offender's life and balance to tribal life once again.  This example was given: If a young man had been murdered, the offender would be required to care for the parents of the dead man for the rest of their lives in the manner the couple's son would have done if he had not died prematurely.

Sick Spirits vs Sick Bodies

The speaker reiterated that people who are sick with physical ailments would not be jailed for their illness; so, too, should it be that people who commit crimes because their Spirit or their Mind is troubled needs to be healed, not imprisoned.

Other speakers mentioned  life experiences which contributed to the commission of their crimes.  They explained how they learned to set aside resentment and bitterness and become the people they were meant to be.  They have taken responsibility and provided accountability.  They have all done various things to right the wrongs they have caused and have rewired their brains so as to contribute to society and behave correctly when they are released from their sentences.

Group Participation

The entire audience formed small groups after these inspirational speeches.  The goal of each group was to discuss what we had heard and respond to a list of questions the group leaders posed.  That portion of the symposium will be the thrust of the next post.  

As always, your comments and questions are most welcome!
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