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Radical Compassion: Restorative Justice Program Meets Needs of Both Victims and Perpetrators

A new program allows victims' forgiveness to play a role in prosecution.

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We know that recidivism, or re-offense, rates are lower with restorative processes. When you have that moral wakeup, that in-person contact with and accountability to the person you harmed, you have the opportunity for a deeper understanding of the impact of your crime and a deeper opportunity for that conviction that I will never do this again .

DB: As some commenters in the Times wrote, in domestic violence we see time and again that men come to an understanding, with remorse and horror, of what they have done… and then they just do it again. So what is there about this moral understanding that actually helps people to change their lives?

SB: There is a significant difference between the cycle of violence that occurs privately, within a couple, and bringing that violence into a community-based restorative process. There you have a community container for holding the person responsible, which is a very different thing. For example there is a program in Nogales, Arizona, that has had remarkable success in doing restorative justice with domestic violence cases. It’s different because there’s this community and extended family involvement in holding the person to account directly for their behavior.

DB:So is it about public shame for the offender? 

SB: There’s a lot of writing and thinking in restorative justice about the value of shame. For me, I’m not a fan of the word “shame.” I think it’s not about this feeling of personal humiliation – I think shame can be very narcissistic. I’m more interested in words like “regret,” and “remorse,” and a true understanding of the impact of one’s behavior. Shame is like “shame on me, I feel so ashamed.” It’s not as effective a place to act out of an interest in the other person’s wellbeing as is regret, remorse and a resolve not to act like this again.

DB: So let’s imagine that Conor, or anyone in a domestic violence cycle, has gone through a restorative justice process and has reached this remorse and resolve: do they then need to go into some major re-education programs, comparable to an addict dealing with addiction?

SB: Absolutely. Restorative justice is not an end in itself. We come up with a plan to repair the harm. The way we do it in  the program I helped develop that is now operating with Community Works here in Oakland, is that the plan to repair the harm has four parts. The program is primarily working with young people. The plan is to repair the harm to your victim, to your parents or caregivers, to your community and to yourself. That plan to repair the harm to yourself is really about transforming yourself, changing your patterns of behavior. So if you have a problem with teen dating violence you need a teen dating violence program as a part of your plan. 

So the restorative process itself is wonderful in doing that first shift, but where there are past traumas, habitual patterns, or repetitive faulty thinking that have gotten you in trouble again and again and again, you really need help with that. This isn’t in lieu of traditional programs. If the kid has an addiction he needs addiction counseling. Sitting in a circle with a person who you harmed in part as a result of your addiction isn’t going to make your addiction go away. You need the addiction counseling.

DB: A number of the commenters really don’t believe that violent men can change. 

SB: So we know that that’s not true. Resolve to Stop the Violence Project has shown after 16 weeks of participation an 84% reduction in violent re-offending. The facts are the facts.

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