Radical Compassion: Restorative Justice Program Meets Needs of Both Victims and Perpetrators
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DB: What about the comment that Conor is a white guy and this will never be rolled out for young black and Latino men?
SB: Again, what a wonderful opportunity this is for raising awareness about all the restorative justice work that is happening. Conor’s case is actually pretty rare on a number of fronts. In Oakland, Baltimore and New York City restorative justice is happening almost entirely with youth of color, for serious crimes, and it is incredibly effective in all three places.
DB: And how widespread is this across the US?
SB: Not so much in this posture, though there are many other restorative justice programs in schools, prisons and communities across this country. Baltimore and Oakland are the two places where this diversion work is happening in a systemic way that I am aware of. The Office for Victims of Crime recently gave the National Council on Crime and Delinquency a grant to survey the nation, for us to determine where this is happening. So that’s what we’re doing now at NCCD, finding out where this happening and how we can support one another, and how we can be supported by the federal government to do this better.
DB: Going back to domestic violence cases, here’s one of the comments in the Times: “Allowing 'forgiveness' to determine the course of the criminal justice system is certain to return us to a time when those who commit domestic violence enjoy a preferential treatment – because victims who survive will be under considerable social pressure to 'forgive' and because perpetrators of domestic violence tend to come off as more sympathetic than other kinds of violent criminals.”
SB: So I think again this is an unfortunate conflating of forgiveness and restorative justice. If we were touting that forgiveness is the approach to domestic violence, yeah, that would be really problematic. If we are saying that restorative justice may be an incredibly effective model, even more effective than our present approach, for reducing re-offense rates in relationships in which there is violence, that is really different. We’re not talking about people being let off the hook, but about people being held meaningfully accountable for their behavior and to looking at the patterns that give rise to the offending behavior, and I think restorative justice does a much better job of that than the traditional criminal justice system.
DB: Here’s another comment: “Just as we do not allow families to take the punishment of offenders in their own hands by lynching the perpetrators, we should not let the families have any say whatsoever in the determination of punishment by the legal authorities. It should be emotionless determination of fact with predictable consequences.”
SB: This idea, that in our criminal justice system today we have an emotionless determination of fact with predictable consequences is a grave fallacy, particularly in capital cases and first-degree homicide cases. One of the greatest determinants of whether someone will or will not be executed today is the race of the victim. This is clearly not dispassionate and emotionless! So we have this incredible disparity in outcomes.
Secondly, people are also concerned that outcomes in sentencing should be uniform, and I take some issue with that. That’s something we are very fixated on here in the United States, I think in part reasonably so because that lack of uniformity has often played itself out in incredibly racist ways. But most crime is intraracial, and where the determinants of outcomes are the very communities that are most impacted by the harm and by over-incarceration, where people of color in particular are making decisions about their own with their own, I don’t know that we are going to see the same kinds of disparities. A large part of the problem today is that we have jurors being selectively removed on the basis of their race. What does it mean to put the decision-making back in the hands of the community? I don’t think we’re going to see that same kind of [racist] disparity in outcomes.