ad

Restorative Justice Transforms Ignorance Into Accountability

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice is a term that has gained vast amounts of popularity over the last 35 years. The theory has become familiar to victims, offenders, and many individuals who work within the judicial system. Restorative Justice has become a way to “repair harm caused by crime, and doing so by involving victims, offenders and community members who… [come] together to spark a transformation [for all].”

Restorative Justice can occur in the form of programs, such as victim and offender mediation, circles, victim and offender panels, conferencing, victim assistance programs, ex-offender assistance, restitution, community service, and victim compensation funds. Many of these are used to repair the relationship between the offender and the victim(s) or the offender and society.

“The outcomes of these restorative processes can provide important avenues for making things right.”

“Therefore, it is structured by four principles of foundation: Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm, the people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution, the responsibility of the government is to maintain order and of the community to build peace.”

Willard M. Oliver’s book, “Catholic Perspectives on Crime and Criminal Justice,” provides a formal list of these four principles: “The first is that restorative justice must ‘hold the offender directly accountable to the individual victim and the specific community affected by the criminal act.’ Second,.. restorative justice must also ‘require the offender to take direct responsibility’ in order to restore things to their rightful order. The third principle… is that restorative justice must ‘provide the victims purposeful access to the courts and correctional processes which allows them to assist in shaping offender obligations.’ Finally, the fourth principle is that all restorative justice programs must ‘encourage the community to become directly involved in supporting victims, holding offenders accountable, and providing opportunities for offenders to reintegrate into the community.'”

Restorative justice is used to serve as an alternative means for holding offenders accountable for their criminal actions. Depending on the volume of the act, an offender who may be serving time for something, such as a drug charge, can choose to participate in the many programs within restorative justice instead of serving their full term. After completion of the allotted program, offenders are allowed to have their cases dropped and can return to their lives.

Transitioning back into society after being treated as a criminal is just one of the attributes of the restorative justice programs.

Not only is restorative justice used for large cases within society, but it is also used for smaller cases. For example on college campuses as a way to keep enrollment numbers high and consistent.

Prior to attending college, I had never heard of restorative justice and while I was in college I had not heard of it until I was involved in an incident that had a direct effect on me.

It was the spring of 2017, a Friday night that I hoped would remain calm. This particular evening my roommate. a friend, and I decided we were going to stay in our apartment living room and relax, get some homework done instead of going out to party. Little did we know, as we approached our apartment there was a pool of people we had to fight through just to get to our front door. They were attending a party across the hall. We were misinformed that there would be a party occurring, not that we ever notified one another if we had parties, but we were just caught off-guard. Once we got settled in, we discovered the endless in-and-out privileges, loud music and consistent yelling and banging. We were even gifted the periodic earful of the “N” word in the music our white neighbors were enjoying as their guests opened and closed their apartment door frequently. Things seemed to be getting out of hand.

Being the adults we were, we decided that it was best to diffuse the situation before involving campus security. Therefore, one roommate decided that she was going to peak her head outside of the door to get a sense of the climate right outside of our apartment door. She soon found out that the majority of the ruckus was due to the half of the party not being in the alleged apartment, it spilled out onto the landing and into our floors common room, which was no bigger than a 300 sq ft. The participants of the party appeared to be packed into the room like a can of sardines.

After she explained the activity going on outside, my roommate re-entered our apartment and we tried to continue our evening. The volume of the crowd increased every few minutes, so we knew the party was growing by the minute. It got so big that some of their guests just decided to cop a squat in front of our door. Not only did they feel the need to cause a fire hazard but they thought it was funny to start a game of bang bang, ditch. This is where someone bangs on your door and tries to run as fast as they can out of the landing area to outside.

Foolishly, we fell into giving our neighbors’ guests the attention they desired. They kept knocking and we kept opening the door because we thought we may have been having guests of our own in the midst of the ruckus. This is only because when our friends come over they do not always give us a heads up and sometimes stop by and knock when they are in the area.

This game of bang, bang, ditch began to resemble a game of tug of war. My apartment-mates and I were losing and we often found ourselves having a stare off through our peep whole with our highly intoxicated opponent. It was the final straw and I ripped our door open as the intoxicated young woman unsteadily tried to bring her head to the peep whole once more. She stopped in her tracks and I sternly asked her what she was she doing? She seemed to take me as a joke, smiling, as I approached her to ask her to discontinue her actions. After this incident, she left.

We got some relief once she was gone and once again tried to proceed with our evening.

A little time went on and my roommate became annoyed again with the ruckus going on outside of our apartment. She whipped open the door and there it was, the N word flying out of a young intoxicated white male’s mouth like a bug into a bug zapper. Zap! “What up N****!” as he greeted his one black friend that entered the apartment.

The young black male did not even react to this greeting, as a young black boy on a predominately white campus he appeared to accept this scenario as something completely normal. He responded, “What’s up?”

My roommate immediately let the door slam and called security to have the party shut down. That was it for her! The N word was not music to our ears and she felt that finally it was time to start holding fellow classmates accountable for the ignorant choosing of words.

She had the evidence, she knew the victim, she had bystanders, and all she had to find now was the name of the offender.

Security finally arrived, on their way to our room they shut the party down happening across the hallway and then proceeded to knock on our door. Knock! Knock! Knock! Security!

We opened the door, invited them in and they began to question us regarding our complaint. We explained everything that lead up to the final incident.

Luckily, campus security was very open to following this incident further, they wrote up a report, got statements from us all, sought after witnesses, and treated this as nothing less than an offense that could have happened off campus. They made periodic checks on our well-being as their cared for our emotions, but it was clear this was protocol.

However, being POC on a predominately white college campus, the security officers understood the importance of diversity and cultural inclusivity.

After a while, this report made it to the desk of the president and they expressed the urgency of wanting to meet with us, as victims of the incident. They wanted to hear about the situation from the horse’s mouth in order to assess how to handle the issue going forward.

I expressed my concern for the offender to be held accountable for their actions. We did not want this to be another incident that got swept under the rug to keep the community of color quiet for the sake of the representation of the University. Keeping this in mind, faculty understood the importance of engaging with us and keeping us involved.

As a result, we were lead to deciding on having the restorative justice circle. It allowed all parties to be present and involved, it gave all parties a platform to have a voice, to express emotion and concern and ultimately led to a solution.

During the restorative justice circle, we were given the opportunity to ask the offender questions, hear their side of the incident, hear what they would do going forward to educate their peers about how to prevent future incidents like this one and most importantly find closure from the incident. Even though this was only one day, it was a meaningful time to lay everything out on the table.

The worst thing that could happen to a college student, especially one of color is to have gone away to college, an incident occurred, it get’s reported and then nothing ever happens further regarding the issue. 4 years is a long time to have something or someone haunt/ torment you while trying to obtain an education.

With restorative justice on college campuses, jails, and developing in many other businesses, it gives students an opportunity to verbally express remorse and then develop a change in action. The most rewarding part is being able to see the offender use what they have learned in a negative event into something positive.

And let’s face it, the offender really had no idea what the N word really meant or where it came from. They just used it because their friend was black or because it sounded good or because they heard someone else saying it.

Written by Alexandria Martin
Edited by Jeanette Smith

Image Courtesy of www.twin-loc.fr’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

 

Leave a Reply