Traditional Justice in the United States has been an eye for an eye standard since this nation declared its independence from England in 1776. While this concept is acceptable, because it adheres to the “Law,” it does nothing for the offender or victim beyond punishment. (Redlich, 2012) Restorative Justice is the standard of putting the law in the back seat, and bringing the problem of why the offender committed the crime, how the offender can repair his or her injustice, the victim having an input in the criminals restoration and the opportunity to confront the offender, with the community helping the victim and offender overcome the crime by restoring each other to society as responsible forgiving citizens that are productive to society. (Richards, 2009)
Traditional Justice is not successful in overcoming crime, and does not correct the injustice or harm done by the offender, nor does it stop the offender from re-offending after the punishment has been completed. Restorative Justice is the best solution for minimizing future crime, and correcting the recidivism associated with traditional justice.
Traditional Justice in America has been consistent for more than two centuries, in that our nation has sought to punish wrong doers (criminals) by stiff sentences of incarceration, probation, parole, and fines. The people that are caught up in a criminal offense in the U.S. are sent to prison by the droves. Once they are released from prison, or jail, this is not the end of their circumstance. Often, low class offenders are placed on probation, where they are constantly monitored by a probation officer, and in some cases if the offender has a prison sentence in some states, he or she are placed on Parole. This is determined on an individual basis. Sadly enough, being monitored after prison or jail, the offender is thrown back into society with very little support in his or her financial lively-hood. The ex-offender is released with less than $200.00 in most state ran prison facilities. The offender may have had a home, transportation, a wife or husband, a job and other necessities for them to survive at the point where they were sent to jail or prison. When the ex-offender comes back into free society (for the most part), he or she is without any of the necessities to survive as a law-abiding, self-supporting citizen. (Galster, 1985)
Now, in 2012, when an offender is convicted or even charged with a crime, a criminal record is established as public information that is used to prejudice, and stigmatize the ex-offender or accused from equal opportunity employment. This record is often used to deny the person of renting a home or apartment, working in certain companies or businesses. (Relyea, 1980) “More and more employers seek the criminal record history of job applicants, sometimes even before extending the applicant an offer. Typically, employers will seek such information on employment applications, often asking applicants to indicate in a check box question whether they have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor within a certain time period. Other employers will ask this question and explore a candidate’s response during a job interview, and most employers will ask applicants to submit to a full criminal background check after a conditional offer of employment is extended. Employers who gather and use criminal history information need to be mindful of applicable local, state and federal laws regarding criminal background checks (Rosen, 2011).
“Prison sentences are not succeeding in turning the majority of offenders away from crime. Of those prisoners released in 1997, 58 per cent were convicted of another crime within two years. Thirty-six per cent were back inside on another prison sentence. The system struggles particularly to reform younger offenders. 18-20-year-old male prisoners were reconvicted at a rate of 72 per cent over the same period; 47 per cent received another prison sentence” (webarchive, 2007). These numbers don’t lie. People that are released from incarceration are starting life all over again regardless of their age. When a person is released without support from the community, family, friends, or organizations that help the ex-offender re-establish themselves as law-abiding, self-supporting citizens, in America, the statistics says that most ex-offenders will return to prison or jail. This alone is enough to recognize that the traditional justice system is severely flawed in reducing recidivism or crime.
Restorative justice or reparative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the community, instead of legal principles or punishing the offender. The victims participate in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. This form of justice gives the offender the greatest opportunity to repair the harm they’ve done which allows them to apologize to everyone harmed, and other restoration to the offender such as returning stolen money, or participating in community service is part of the rehabilitation. Restorative justice focuses on both the victim and offender by addressing and implementing solutions to their personal needs. The key preventative aspect of restorative justice is that it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offenses. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offense against an individual or community, instead of a crime against the state. In the traditional justice system currently applied in most criminal courts, the offender versus the State or United States is sold to the tax payer under the premise of “we the people” concept. (Richards, 2009)
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Restorative justice that nurtures discussion between the victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability. Restorative justice is a different way of thinking about responding to crime. Restorative justice politicians and authorities view crime as harm done to people and communities, not just violation of the law. They seek to put things right by addressing the harm to victims, the community and by addressing the causes of crime. There are many different types of restorative justice. (Solgps.alberta.ca 2012)
Restorative Justice Models
The three most common models are Family group (or community) conferencing, Circles (sentencing circles, healing circles, or peace circles), and Victim-offender conferences where most models involve some form of encounter between the victim and offender. (Solgps.alberta.ca 2012) The principle of restorative justice starts with realizing that crime is injury. Crime hurts individual victims, communities, and offenders which creates an obligation to make things right by everyone. All parties should be a part of the response to the crime, including the victim if he or she wishes, the community, and the offender. The victim’s perspective is central to deciding how to repair the harm caused by the crime. Accountability for the offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done. The community is responsible for the well-being of all its members, including both victim and offender. All human beings have dignity and worth.
Restoration in Restorative Justice is repairing the harm and rebuilding relationships in the community. The results are measured by how much repair was accomplished with the offender, victim and community, rather than by how much punishment was inflicted on the offender. The goal of restoring the offender, in the community is key to the success of Restorative Justice. Crime control cannot be achieved without active involvement of the community. When dealing with all offenders, the justice process is respectful of age, abilities, sexual orientation, family status, and diverse cultures and backgrounds. Using the restorative justice model gives full recognition of everyone involved, regardless of racial, ethnic, geographic, religious, economic, or other common prejudices associated in the traditional justice we currently have ensuring that everyone is given equal protection and due process.(ojjdp.gov, 2012)
Restorative Justice and Recidivism
“One of the most important outcome variables for any form of criminal justice intervention is recidivism. The overall mean effect size for the 32 tests that examined the effectiveness of restorative justice programming in reducing offender recidivism was +.07 (SD = .13) with a 95% CI of +.12 to +.02. Although the effect sizes ranged from +.38 to -.23, more than two thirds of the effect sizes were positive (72%). In other words, restorative justice programs, on average, yielded reductions in recidivism compared to non-restorative approaches to criminal behavior. In fact, compared to the comparison and/or control groups who did not participate in a restorative justice program, offenders in the treatment groups were significantly more successful during the follow-up periods, t(31) = 2.88, p < .01" (Latimer, 2012).
Benefits of Restorative Justice
A benefit to the community for restorative justice is the opportunity to be interactive with the victims and the offenders beyond the traditional justice system. The community can identify the problems within their surroundings and recognize the problems before crime occurs. Potential offenders can be identified and brought into the system early to rehabilitate them and give them a quality of life experience that hopefully minimizes the community threats of crime.
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In addition, as our society has recognized the disparate treatment of employment opportunities for ex-offenders, “nearly all state laws prohibit employers from considering a job applicant’s arrest that did not result in a conviction. Moreover, the EEOC takes the position that because the use of arrest records as an absolute bar to employment has a disparate impact on some protected groups; such records alone cannot be used to exclude applicants from employment and has even gone as far as stating that a pre-employment inquiry may violate Title VII. The EEOC has consistently invalidated employment policies containing a blanket exclusion of those individuals with arrest records. Thus, employers should avoid asking job applicants any questions designed to elicit information regarding prior arrests that did not result in convictions and should remove any such questions from employment applications (Rosen, 2012).
Benefits of the victim are true concern for their mental, physical, and recovery needs. Traditional court has very little if any concern for the victim outside of using them to testify against the offender to gain a conviction. Restoration of the victim is almost meaningless to the traditional courts. The victim is given the opportunity to reconcile with the offender, and be at peace with themselves and the offender, or they can opt out to retain the eye for an eye belief about justice. By confronting the offender, the victim is able to understand why the offender committed the crime, and he or she is left with acceptance or denial of what has happened. This is true closure. (The term: “Closure” is often used in a criminal proceeding by the prosecutor or defense attorney which means: “A feeling of finality or resolution, especially after a traumatic experience” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/closure, 2012). Without restoring the victim, the offender, and reintegrating the ex-offender after prison with his character being restored and the victim having the opportunity to put to rest the harm the offender caused, with a society that wants to forgive, closure is an illusion for everyone.
The benefits of the offender is to allow them the opportunity to explain why the offense was committed, and understand what he or she is expected of from the community and victim. The offender can be restored with the opportunity to make a difference in society and their self. By being confronted in this forum, the offender can be honest within themselves and face the real whole truth and nothing but the truth.
In this paper, we have learned that Traditional Justice fails to restore the victim, the community, and the offender. Traditional justice cost tax payers extensively with little regard to making amends by the offender to the offended or the citizens the offender was a part of before the crime took place. Identifying criminal conduct, bringing the offender into a court of law, convicting the offender, sending the offender to jail or prison and releasing them back into free society without money, a job, a home, a vehicle, and a chance to work or re-establish a productive life with the traditional justice system is appalling.
Certainly, we as a people must refuse to accept crime, but when looking at the benefits of traditional justice versus restorative justice, it is very easy to see that restorative justice is the answer to recidivism, responsibility, justice, and reduction of cost to minimize criminal conduct. By identifying the accused, bringing the offender to the knowledge of the truth about what offense has been committed, confronting the accused with the victim, and allowing society to interact by providing the victim and offender with productive reconciliation is how we as the greatest nation in the world will ever overcome the evil with good. Regardless of whether the offender’s criminal conduct was attributed to drugs and alcohol, as more that seventy-percent of all crimes are a result of drugs and alcohol, the offender, victim, and society deserve a solution to crime, not a band-aid that only puts the prisoner in jail or prison, and puts a greater threat on society once he or she is released after the sentence under the traditional justice system.
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