Sometimes I wonder how practical restorative justice is to apply to the area of criminal justice. After all, most of the people I know who advocate for restorative justice have committed crimes. Of course, many of these people long for healing for their victims (which is a great thing), but when it comes to talking about forgiveness and restoration for offenders, it can seem a bit self-serving.
My deepest desire is that those I harmed would be healed. I’ll be the first to admit, however, that I, too, long for forgiveness and restoration. I long to restore the relationships that were broken by my crime. I also long to be restored to wholeness by my community when I’m done serving my time in prison for my crime. Nevertheless, the reality is that our current system of “justice” doesn’t allow offenders to return to wholeness. We might release offenders back to communities, but employment, housing, and other discriminations still exist for those who have earned the title of “Felon.” Is this justice? Must those who have served their prison sentence bear the scarlet letter “F” for the rest of their lives?
Fortunately, many people who have never been convicted of a crime also believe that our current system of “justice” is broken and needs fixing. These advocates believe that not only do victims of crime need more attention for healing, but that wholeness cannot be achieved if the brokenness of offenders and communities is not also healed. These are the advocates for a restorative approach to justice.
On October 13, 2018, several hundred restorative justice advocates gathered at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and listened to several speakers at the second annual Michigan Restorative Justice Conference. This year’s speakers included philosopher and Yale professor Nicholas Woltersdorff, PH.D., Dominique Gilliard (author of Rethinking Incarceration), Father Kelly of Precious Blood Reconciliation Ministries, Michigan Representative David LeGrand, Jerlin Riley (the mother of a murdered son), and Charlotte Witvliet, PH.D. (forgiveness researcher and professor at Hope College).
If you, like me, wonder how restorative justice can be put into practice, you’ll want to check out the videos of this year’s conference. They are available for viewing at www.calvin.edu/prison-initiative/resources. This year’s conference theme was Radical Reconciliation, which I found especially reflected in “Mother” Jerlin’s message of hope and forgiveness for her son’s murderer (who is a good friend of mine). Her message fanned the flame of hope in my heart for radical reconciliation in my own damaged and broken relationships. Her message, and the other excellent presentations, also gave me hope for restored wholeness, both for those I’ve harmed and for me when I return to society again. Restorative justice *is* a radical approach to justice, but it’s the only approach that seeks wholeness and healing for all parties harmed by crime: victims, offenders, and communities.
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Author: Bryan Noonan
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