For some time now, there has been growing dissatisfaction with the justice system. Citizens feel disconnected; victims are dissatisfied, and those working in the system are frustrated. Policymakers are increasingly concerned about the burgeoning cost of justice in the face of this discontent and the high existing rates of recidivism.
Over the past decades, there has been growing interest in new approaches to justice involving the community and focusing on the victim. The current system, in which crime is considered an act against the State, works on a premise that largely ignores the victim and the community hurt most by crime. Instead, it focuses on punishing offenders without forcing them to face the impact of their crimes.
Restorative justice offers more inclusive processes and reorients the goals of justice. The approach has been finding a receptive audience, as it creates a common ground that accommodates the goals of many constituencies and provides a collective focus.
THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
• Crime is an offense against human relationships.
• Victims and the community are central to justice processes.
• The first priority of justice processes is to assist victims.
• The second priority is to restore the community to the highest possible degree.
• The offender has personal responsibility to victims and to the community for crimes committed.
• Stakeholders share responsibilities for restorative justice through partnerships for action.
• Within this framework, the offender will develop improved competency and understanding, making it possible for him or her to successfully re-enter society with a minimum of recidivistic risk.
Sunny Schwartz founded RSVP (Resolve to Stop the Violence Project), the first law enforcement program in the nation that requires offenders to confront their crimes in a controlled setting, while giving victims a much more significant voice in the criminal justice process.
The result has been a clear reduction in re-arrest for violent crime that demonstrates true rehabilitation and restoration and saves money. As Dreams from the Monster Factory illustrates, the notion of locking someone up and throwing away the key is a myth that only masks the reality of a rotating prison door that sees the same offenders time and again, along with a mounting list of victims and a cycle of wasted money. A study by Harvard professor and renowned expert on violence James Gilligan showed that Schwartz’s program cut recidivism for violent acts by a staggering 80 percent.
On another level, the promise of RSVP is a restoration of dignity to an area of society that is often lacking. By acknowledging the individual and the complexities of the toll on all those affected by crime and violence, RSVP attempts to rework a broken system on the basis that people have the potential to change if you actively integrate principles of leadership and commitment into the criminal justice system. This translates into actual, quantifiable, improvements in crime rates and budgets that benefit the entire community.
The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: Reducing Violence through a Jail-Based Initiative by James Gilligan, MD, and Bandy Lee, MD, MDiv