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Community-based practices that repair harm

In the field of juvenile and criminal justice you often hear a buzzing in your ears and it’s the sound of buzz words like “restorative justice.”  Words highlighting model practices are often utilized widely in this field, but what do these practices really mean.  What do these practices really look like when implemented in the community?

Restorative justice is a principle that can frame many practices such as healing circles and victim-offender mediation.  This principle recognizes the importance of bringing together the voice of the victim, offender, and community in an effort to recognize the harm caused by crime.  These practices may or may not include the actual victim of the crime, as they are often voluntary.  When a victim of crime does not want to be involved, a surrogate can be utilized.  Through restorative practices individuals affected by crime can engage in a process that repairs the harm and rebuild or build new relationships.

This may sound like a soft on crime approach to many, but restorative justice practices have proven to be successful since their implementation in the United States in the 1970s.  Two recent blogs by prominent prosecutors in California, Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Golde and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, highlight how they are embracing the principles of restorative justice in their local communities.  Both prosecutors are encouraged by the use of restorative practices and how they can be utilized to address the effects of crime.

I am an experienced mediator with over 500 hours of at the table experience mediating diverse cases from civil rights, to small claims, to victim-offender cases.  My experience engaging in victim-offender mediation brought me to believe in second chances and certainly proved to me that restorative practices are not “soft on crime.”  I have seen youth shaken and saddened by the harm caused to the victims of their crime.  These often hardened youth apologized for the harm they caused and were eager to repair it.  In these same instances, I saw victims open their hearts to the youthful offenders and find create ways to repair the emotional and physical damage of the crime.

The principles of restorative justice create an opportunity to challenge the conventional approach to crime.  These practices allow an increased voice of the victim and meaningful opportunity for offenders to understand and learn from their actions.  Further, restorative justice practices recognize that the harm caused by crime is expansive and has far reaching effects beyond just one victim and one offender.  Through engaged learning opportunities, such as healing circles and mediation, we can promote long-term public safety while increasing community involvement and victim engagement.

Keywords: community corrections, Kate McCracken, restorative justice

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices

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