Posted: May 25th, 2022
Individual restorative justice paper: Case study
Traditionally, the debate about the purpose of the justice system has revolved around the question of whether punishment should be retributive or rehabilitative in nature. Those who favor a retributive model stress the need for criminals to pay their debts to society and view the purpose of the justice system as primarily to punish convicts through confinement and forcing them to work. Those who advocate a rehabilitative model stress the need to reform prisoners, through measures such as education and counseling. They believe that imprisonment alone merely embitters prisoners and reinforces convict’s sense of membership in an ostracized, criminal class. Also the desire for revenge, while understandable on the part of the victim, is not a base emotion that should necessarily be acknowledge by the justice system
The restorative model attempts to provide a different perspective of how to deal with criminals and criminality. The need for the person or the community who was harmed by the crime to be ‘made whole’ is acknowledged in restorative justice models, but the needs of the criminal to make reparations emotionally are also honored. In the case study, Mildred’s home was burgled by Ed and David, leaving her feeling violated as well as upset at the loss of her belongings. Initially, through the help of the community, Mildred’s home was restored to its original state, and her family gave her a place to stay while she recovered from the trauma of the experience. This underlines how recovery and restitution is always a communal, rather than an individualistic process.
What is controversial about restorative justice, however, is the notion that the perpetrators of the crime become involved in the restorative aspects of the justice system, not simply helpful volunteers and friends and family. The defendant or convicted criminal will meet with the victim and decide the best way to ‘make things right.’ In contrast to the conventional justice system, in which a judge must hand down a sentence according to the guidelines of the law, the restorative process is organic, and evolves in the form of a dialogue between victim and perpetrator. The victim feels more empowered and in control of how the process takes shape, but speaking with the perpetrator also humanizes the perpetrator. The perpetrator learns from the experience, as he or she witnesses firsthand the damage done to another human being he or she has caused through thoughtless action. Both the perpetrator and the victim’s needs are addressed. For example, David offered to pay Mildred half of what could not be recovered from the crime, which required him to get a job and gain more structure in his life. His family members offered to spend more time with David, as did his former baseball coach.
In the case of Mildred, the harm was not only done to Mildred, but also to her family, who naturally worried about her more now that her house had been burgled and who were forced to accommodate her as she recovered from the crime. The volunteers who helped restore Mildred’s home and bring her meals also were affected, as were the police. Neighbors were naturally more frightened and mistrustful of others, now that they believed that thieves were in their midst.
However, because of the restorative justice process, Mildred is able to see that although David may have done something bad, he is not a bad human being. This restored some of her shaken faith in humanity, and enabled her to move on with her life, freeing her children from some of the obligations they felt towards their elderly mother. David benefited because he was motivated to get a job and gained some additional needed support structures in his life. His parents also gained a better understanding of the personal difficulties David was wrestling with, which improved their relationship with their son. The community benefited because David was less likely to commit another crime, given he felt a new sense of obligation to the people who reached out to him to help him mend his ways. David was even allowed to rejoin the baseball team he had been kicked off of, and his coach helped find him a job at a batting cage. This reinforced the positive aspects of David’s skills, showing him he could be more than a criminal if he made the effort.
It should be noted that the more traditional adversarial system of justice also incorporates rehabilitative and restorative aspects into its framework. As well as pay restitution to Mildred, Ed (who was convicted at a trial) was assigned to work in a ‘closed’ workshop to learn a trade and receive mandatory anger management counseling and other forms of psychological treatment. In contrast to Dave, whose job was voluntary and provided by an old baseball coach, this sentence was imposed upon Ed. While Dave worked through issues with his family and agreed to go fishing with his relative on a weekly basis to talk about his feelings, Ed was required to undergo more formalized, relatively impersonal treatment. There still remained a clear distance between Ed and Mildred, given that Mildred merely submitted a one-sided victim impact statement to the court. Ed did not have to engage with or respond to this statement.
Although the restorative process might seem somewhat less punitive for the criminal, Mildred also felt better after the restorative process. She felt less afraid and persecuted, after personally experiencing the humanity of David on a firsthand basis and was able to establish greater independence from her children. The community significantly benefitted from the process, as David decided to attend community college and coach Little League, because of the positive impact of the experience of getting a job in a batting cage and the emotional support he received from friends and families.
Van Ness, Dan. (2009). When Ed and David broke into Mildred’s house and took things.
RJ City Phase 1 Final Report. Retrieved:
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