How do you think of justice?
Is it in terms of crime and punishment? Allow me to show you a different way to see it through the lens of restorative justice.
Vermont has a network of 20 community justice centers which bring offenders and their victims together with community volunteers to work out their own justice. These panels of volunteers work cooperatively to heal the damage done to the community (those affected include; the victim, businesses, neighbors, family and friends) by the commission of a crime. In the tiny State of Vermont there are over 700! community members participating in these programs.
In the criminal justice system the State becomes the victim in the process. Restorative justice panels return the actual victim(s) of the crime to the justice process. Restorative justice panels are there to represent the victims rights and needs in the aftermath of a crime. Ron Cohen ,in an essay on Restorative Justice, states; ” In a program based on restorative justice, criminal wrongdoers are asked to acknowledge the harm their actions have caused, and to repair the damage. Those who have been harmed, and other members of the community in which the act occurred, meet directly with the wrongdoer, describe the harm she or he has caused, and develop a plan to be carried out by the wrongdoer to repair the harm. Completing the plan “repairs” the harm done to the victim and the community to the extent possible, and reintegrates the wrongdoer into the community which has been harmed.”
I have been involved in this program at the Brattleboro Community Justice Center for over 6 months and I have found it to be an eye-opener. I have seen offenders lives truly changed by the process and victims needs met. It is community building at its most basic level. Of brothers and sisters helping one another.
You can hear more about this on Vermont Edition , a radio talk show that covered this subject recently. As an added bonus, you will hear the host read comments by yours truly over the air during the show.
For further reading check out this excellent book; Changing Lenses: A new focus for crime and justice, Howard Zehr, (1990). . Herald Press Scottsdale , PA.
This photo was made by my niece Cindy of two of her children as we hiked in the Green Mountains of Vermont recently. It speaks to me of brotherly and sisterly love…
This is a truly enlightened approach to justice. I think if a pilot program were started in some of our larger cities and states, we would see a positive change even in our hard-hearted systems. We could use a little Vermont in Florida. Thanks, Roger. I love the picture. Ginger in Miami
Very interesting Mr R. With the Brattleboro Community Justice Center program do you see a lot of turnover of volunteers or do they stay on long term?
It seems that the turnover in volunteers is very small in Brattleboro with some panelists being involved for 5 or more years. The support system is very good with debriefing after every session. You can, as a prospective panelist, sit in on sessions during your training period to get a real sense of the process.