Our country’s justice system can be understood as a Punitive Justice System. When someone commits a crime it is committed against the state, and the state intervenes to determine what punishment a person deserves because of what was done. Victim’s needs are often forgotten except for their use as witnesses. Similarly, the greater community is often affected by the unjust act as well, and the community’s needs are overlooked in the same way that the victims often are.
The results of this system are both obvious and terrible, two out of three people leaving prison return because punishment is not effective in decreasing crime. Victims are often affected for the rest of their lives because their needs are ignored by a system focused only on punishing perpetrators. And as a result our communities are less safe places for our children to grow up. Fortunately there is an alternative that addresses the needs of all affected by unjust acts, one that restores the human connections that were broken, and creates the conditions for accountability and restitution as well.
Restorative Justice is both a traditional and, in our culture, a new and exciting alternative to punitive justice. With restorative processes, affected members of the community including the victim sit down together with the perpetrator and work to restore broke connection through acts of witnessing, sharing, and accountability. Best of all, because RJ includes all affected, very often perpetrators are required to gain the skills necessary to make different choices in their lives as part of restitution. Restorative processes leave everyone satisfied because they address the needs of all affected.
While there are many different Restorative Justice forms, here at Rose City NVC we are excited by Restorative Circles, a process developed by Dominic Barter, currently a board member of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Restorative Circles place the power to address injustice into the hands of all community members. RC recognizes conflict as an invitation to dialog and reconnection, and to revise our relationships into more harmonious forms as well.
At Rose City NVC we address the affects of punitive justice in two ways. First, by teaching NVC to those currently incarcerated in order to send peace-makers back into our communities from prisons. The Oregon Prison Project is recognized as an effective and ever-growing program in Oregon prisons and with Oregon Youth Authority. And now we are working to keep people out of prison to begin with by making justice a local and community based experience. To that end we are sponsoring trainings designed to provide the skills necessary for all community members to be able to participate in resolving community conflicts in a way that promotes, rather than destroys, community.
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