Book Review: The Little Book of Restorative Justice
July 21, 2012
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The Little Book of Restorative Justice (Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding Series) by Howard Zehr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Restorative justice is a term that I’ve heard only a few times, and mostly in peace and reconciliation courses during my college courses. While it was never explained in depth, the basic premise of it was that it’s a system of justice based on not so much persecuting the offender, but treating them s a victim as well. I used to cringe every time that I heard the term. Despite my liberal tendencies, I’ve always been more of an “eye for an eye” type of person permitting that all the evidence is there.
This book, small and lacking in detail though it is, really helped clarify the concept that it’s not only treating the offender as a victim, but still retaining that they did something wrong, offers to help them out if there is an actual physiological and psychological issue that can be addressed. Say a person who has raped or sexually assaulted another was abused in any manner as a child. If this is their first offense of the sort, there’ a possibility that the psychological issues that are buried are to the explosive point that, if not addressed, will exceed the ability of any professional to help the victim work through. This does not mean that they had a reason for the rape, but that there is something that needs addressing and that this action isn’t necessarily of that person’s character. By treating the offender as a victim of another crime, the offender can receive the help that they need and holds a better chance of becoming a functioning member of society again.
Zehr is sure to stress that this type of justice system will not work in all cases, such as psychopaths and those that harming others is actually part of their character. He also comments on how restorative justice can work as a preventative measure when focused on use in juvenile issues. If a teenager is caught robbing a store, he’s not locked up and fined simply to be let go later with nothing for a true reprimand. Through restorative justice, such actions may be taken as the family being mandated into counseling, individual counseling for the juvenile, community service (possibly at the site of the robbery), amongst other “positive” forms of retribution.
While I now have a more thorough understanding of the idea of restorative justice, and I see that it’s possible for it to have stunning results, I’m hesitant. Until we can become a nation where everyone has the same values and code of ethics, and toss aside this childish idea of “I’m right, you’re wrong” because we call those values and ethics different names under the guise of religious zealousness, restorative justice could never work in the United States on a large scale.
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*This has been cross-posted to my freelance writing blog.