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Moving towards restorative justice in the United States
an article by David Adams

Video: Restorative justice conference

Restorative justice is spreading around the world. It began in the ancient pre-colonial traditions of Africa. In recent times, it inspired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa led by Archbishop Desmond, which played such an important role in the transition from apartheid to democracy under the government headed by Nelson Mandela. And more recently it has been adopted by the judicial system of Brazil thanks to the work of Judge Leoberto Brancher.

diagram of difference between official justice systems in the United States and restorative justice, adapted from Sonoma County article

click on photo to enlarge

Now it is being taken up in the United States. In recent months there have been press reports about restorative justice initiatives in Oakland, Los Angeles and Sonoma County, California, Boulder Colorado and Burlington Vermont.

As described in an article from Sonoma County, "Restorative Justice is rooted in the practices of indigenous societies, which saw individual actions that harm, hurt and kill as a disease of the culture. They did not perceive of the world as being made up of good guys and bad guys. They recognized misbehaviors as either the symptom of a disease or rooted in ignorance. They took on the responsibility to teach and heal the individuals who were reflecting the failures of the culture. Experience has taught us that victims are not healed through revenge, and that people are not rehabilitated through the cruelty of prisons. We are healed when we feel seen, understood and offered whatever rehabilitation is needed to become a contributing member of our community."

In Sonoma County, the civil society has established a "listening circle" to restore justice after the murder of a child, as an alternative to official justice methods based solely on prosecution and punishment. As described in the article by Vesta Copestakes, the community meetings have led to a profound questioning of traditional justice methods and an eloquent demand for involvement of the entire community in the administration of justice.

In Oakland, California, the chief probation officer at San Francisco's Juvenile Hall tells about how they are changing their approach to young offenders: "we've launched an initiative to divert young people from the juvenile justice system instead of traditional prosecution, if, in fact, they are willing to participate in a restorative justice program, which essentially brings the young person and the victim - the offended - together; to talk about the offense, to develop a plan to restore the victim, and to engage the young person in a plan to address the factors that led them to commit the offense in the first place."

In Los Angeles, California, restorative justice principles are being used for the rehabilitation of people returning from prison.

In Colorado, the extensive involvement of volunteers for restorative justice has greatly reduced repeat criminal offenses.

And the University of Vermont recently hosted an international conference devoted to restorative justice. According to one report, Vermont has a statute dating from 2000 that affirms restorative justice as a state policy: "It is the policy of this state that principles of restorative justice be included in shaping how the criminal justice system responds to persons charged with or convicted of criminal offenses, and how the state responds to persons who are in contempt of child support orders."


Question(s) related to this article:

Restorative justice, What does it look like in practice?

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Latest reader comment:

On this theme, I encourage CPNN readers to read Restorative Justice for Children in Brazil.

This report was posted on August 16, 2014.