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
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
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
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
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.