I used to be a police officer and this has been a subject that interested me more and more as time went on. Arresting a teenager who has been arrested multiple times in a year for carrying a knife around clearly demonstrates that the punishment is not having an effect, when he is arrested for murder a few months later, there are automatically going to be questions of ‘why?’
The thing is, if this young man had to face the family of a rival gang member who had been stabbed, would he perhaps begin to understand the consequence and risk of carrying a knife? To see that a rival gang member also had sisters, a mother, brothers; that they went to school and played x box, if they were humanised, perhaps a murder could have been prevented. When you are in a large group it is easy to get all psyched up and to think of another as ‘the other’, to pursue ‘the other’ without thought of the other’s lif. It can become a pack culture, almost animalistic.
This article points out that restorative justice is often seen as the weaker of the punishments. However, it is not easy to take responsibility and face the pain you have caused. Restorative justice is not about putting someone who is entirely unrepentant into a room with their victim. It is about giving an opportunity to apologise, to interact and engage, and lack of engagement should perhaps lead to more traditional punishment.
The history of restorative justice in this article is also interesting, and makes it very applicable to all areas of life. This is something that can be applied to a church, a community project and how we live as Christians in an often unforgiving, me centred society.
This is not something that Christians share. We as church are very good at getting cross, judgmental and sometimes cruel, more in words than in actions, although often in both. Putting this kind of system into action could transform the way that we interact with each other, within our immediate church family, our denomination and other denominations.
This in turn can have a significant effect on how we interact with the community around us. The Community Mission team works with churches and projects that are working in their local community. Often you will find that within a community there are factions. Arguments that can go back a generation or more, if we could equip churches to tackle this with grace and to do so well, with a restorative justice approach, perhaps we would find that our community projects would have a significantly greater impact.
At the heart of restorative justice is reconciliation and forgiveness for both victim and perpetrator. This is not only required within the confines of the criminal justice system. Perhaps it would be worth looking at how this might apply within our own families, church, community and workplace. The Community Mission Team often uses the verse from Isaiah 58:12, in the Message version to give context for our vision:
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
To fulfil this mission, we have to have an understanding of the need for forgiveness in our lives as individuals and as a community. Restorative justice seems like a good place to start helping this mind set to become more common.