Monday, July 18, 2011

Restorative Justice Summarized

The following post summarizes the Symposium featuring Restorative Justice, which was sponsored by the 7th Step Club at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.

The Tecumseh State Correctional Facility hosted a symposium which was attended by 20 guests from outside the walls.  About twice that many inmates participated, as well.  The event was hosted by the 7th Step Club, an on-campus organization whose mission it is to eradicate recidivism.

We were warmly welcomed, offered hospitality and treated to four speakers who addressed the issues surrounding Restorative Justice.  These gentlemen were very well spoken and had completed the college level course in criminal justice taught by Professor Kelly Asmussen from Peru State College at Peru, Nebraska. The men who make up the 7th Step Club were so impressed with what they learned that they wanted to share their newly found knowledge.

We heard how the Native American community dealt with those whose behaviors was outside the acceptable norm.  The Indians did not punish their people for being sick in their spirit any more than we would imprison someone who had an infection.  They worked with the offender to heal the imbalance and create harmony in the tribe.   Other speakers shared their personal stories of transformation and how the college class had positively impacted their lives.

Restorative Justice works in much the same way as the Native American model.   The offender, the victim and the community work together in a spirit of truth and love and harmony to restore balance.  The offender becomes accountable; the victim has his needs met because he feels heard and understood and the community supports both in order to reestablish and maintain order and balance.  It becomes a win/win/win situation.

Following the inspirational addresses, the entire audience was divided into small discussion groups.  There were three burning questions for each circle to address:

1.    Is there a problem?
2.    What can restorative justice offer?
3.    How can restorative justice be implemented?

Our particular group was made up of people from every color and stripe, both men and women and was ably facilitated by one of the featured speakers.  We examined and talked about the problems and their solutions; every member of our group was candid and forthcoming.

Recidivism is an indicator that problems exist; prison overcrowding is another.  There is little or no opportunity for educational pursuits.  Even though parole or release is predicated on mandatory programs, those very programs are closed or unavailable to those who would participate.

What is now in place in Nebraska is Retributive Justice.  It is purely punitive.  There is no arrangement for personal growth or transformation.  There is no reward for enlightenment, education or transformation.  Punitive action does not create balance or harmony; indeed, it often feeds violence, more offenses, poor morale among the prisoners as well as their keepers.  Finally, it creates a climate conducive to recidivism.  Simple punishment affects all the stakeholders: the offender, the victim and the community ADVERSELY.

Society prefers to place offenders of every type of crime into pigeon holes and turn a blind eye to those who are incarcerated.  Perhaps this is because society knows no other remedy and John and Jane Q Public are fearful.

Our group was keenly aware that forging a career with a conviction in one’s past is nearly impossible.   Overcrowded facilities further complicate this issue; so does society’s reticence to accept felons back into society after their sentences have been served.  People who leave prison are often ill prepared to live outside prison walls because they lack basic skills for life on the streets and they do not know how to access resources.

All these factors contribute to the return of offenders to what is familiar: prison.  

Another consideration is the financial cost associated with incarcerating people.  Most experts agree that room and board for prisons runs in the neighborhood of $30,000.00 and upward.  That’s a pretty high rent neighborhood.  Our group offered that some  prisoners, with accountability and transition training, could be paroled or released in order to CONTRIBUTE to community coffers with their taxes, wages spent on goods and services; furthermore they could offer service to the community.

We posed this question: ‘Could we really eradicate recidivism?’  Furthermore, is it not possible, even advisable, to have offenders become accountable and transformed through Restorative Justice, become transformed and truly SUCCEED in life?

The good news is that Tecumseh State Correctional Facility will be offering this college credit course again, thanks to Professor Kelly Asmussen and his students.

Those of us from the streets who were fortunate to have attended that 7th Step Symposium featuring Restorative Justice will never be quite the same again.  We had been enlightened and our hearts were touched and inspired. 

The many comments we have received regarding this subject have warmed our hearts and we invite you to give us your feedback.  As always, you are free to remain anonymous.  

Connie Baum

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  1. I'm glad that you're doing better Mother Connie. But you and the Normanator need to get out and do some fun things for yourself.

  2. I guess I should have tossed in a few one liners with a very serious subject to indicate that the aforementioned symposium WAS fun! We always see people-inside the walls and from the streets-we seldom see and we get a chance to jibber jabber. ALSO, there was an ice cream social yesterday...we had a bunch of coffee guests last week and this week we'll have a lunch bunch. I have breakfast with a bunch of people every Tuesday... I suppose FUN is fairly subjective!

    I SO appreciate your popping by, Bodacious One. Thank you!

    Mother Connie

  3. Connie, I just got time to go through and read these posts on restorative justice. Very well done! I do think it smacks of peace on earth. Let's join hands - maybe not sing Kumbaya, but instead, let's work together to eradicate the broken system and replace it with love and forgiveness, giving these men and women the tools they need to return to the fold.


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