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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  1. Since someone I'm close to is incarcerated at this time due to a drunk driving incident that caused a death; I feel that I can contribute here. The person convicted of the charge did not intend to drive, but was asked to by his friend who was very inebriated. The driver had also had too much to drink, add icy roads and the worst thing imaginable happened. He killed his friend by crashing into a tree.

    Through the court system, he was NOT allowed to talk to the victim's family by the lawyers involved & the court system. This allowed for even deeper damage to the victim's family and friends for they had no way of knowing of his deep grief and despair. In their minds, he was a monster...not their former friend who suffered too.

    To this day, the wounds are deep in the community and in the victim's family circle. How is there any way to help offenders and victims heal when the court system has an adversarial system in place; if not through a Restorative Justice program? It is so important to all involved.

  2. Dear One, you are acutely and painfully aware of the kinds of suffering and imbalance that can transpire. How wonderful it would be if Restorative Justice could be in play here. By uniting offender, victim (and family) with the community and working to repair the damage done so much good could come from a terrible situation. I feel very sorry for people whose lives have been so drastically altered. Then, not to have ways to make amends because of rules or inaction or whatever the barrier is-is just heart wrenching to me. I want to thank you for your candor and for your comment. I know it comes from a place of truth and love, which is critical to a wholesome life.

    Mother Connie

  3. Thank you is always a heartbreaking situation when someone is incarcerated. There are so many people affected.

    People who find themselves in that position have so much to adjust to. Yes there have to be consequences for our actions...however, how much better to have those consequences be productive to improving the opportunity to grow and learn positive things instead of more negativity & violence?

    When the heart, mind and soul of a person is are their choices and their actions; and the ripple effect will go on to bless others. Best wishes!

  4. I agree with you that incarceration is hard-and it impacts families and communities so dramatically and with so much misery.

    Restorative Justice, when implemented properly, has the potential to alleviate some of the misery and ameliorate some of the pain by healing all the stakeholders: offender, victim, and community in total.

    Retributive Justice? It seems to be an oxymoron, where the justice component seems not to exist.

    Your comments are appreciated here. We feel for you and yours as your own life journey is touched by this issue.

    Please consider yourself hugged.


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