Restorative Justice for Federal Court Reform
How could the federal court system offer restorative justice to both victims and criminals? Prison Fellowship International provides the Restorative Justice Online site with information and proposals for legislators, police, courts, prison officials, and crime victims. Debaters researching this topic will find the legislative page of interest.
Restorative justice is much more than a programme or series of programmes. It is a philosophy of justice that can guide public policy in a number of ways.
The section addresses some of the public policy dimensions of restorative justice. These range from questions of whether there is a legal basis in your jurisdiction for using restorative processes and programmes to how the entire criminal justice system might be reoriented to reflect restorative principles and values.
A number of jurisdictions have adopted legislation concerning restorative justice. Intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations and Council of Europe have adopted recommendations, handbooks and other resources to guide their member states in effective use of restorative justice.
The links immediately below address issues that frequently arise concerning restorative justice and public policy.
There are a number of articles and other resources organized by topic at the bottom of the page that will also be of interest.
The National Association of Attorney Generals has this 2014 page, What is Restorative Justice?, which begins:
Although its Western revival began nearly 40 years ago, many are still unfamiliar with the theory of “restorative justice.” In a nutshell, the idea is this: crime is a harm perpetrated upon a victim and a community, rather than on the state; and it is best handled by focusing on healing the victim and reintegrating the offender into functional society. Today, dozens of states and foreign nations are experimenting with different restorative justice models on varying scales.
Shifting the federal court system to a stronger reliance on restorative justice principles would involve enabling convicted criminals opportunities to develop job skills and earn income to better “pay for their crimes.” that is, to compensate victims and families for the damages they inflicted. Offenders can work to earn their way back into society and doing their best to provide restoration to victims of the crime they were convicted of committing.
The Department of Justice has a pages on restitution in federal courts (pdf), and notes “The Mandatory Restitution Act of 1996 established procedures for determining the amount of restitution to which a victim may be entitled.”
Years ago, for a public school debate topic, I published an essay, The Rise of State-Centered Justice, from a book by Daniel Van Ness, then the head of Justice Fellowship. He began is explanation of an earlier principle of justice:
Two men met at the river where each had come to fish. Each had a grievance with the other, a feud that had been simmering for weeks. Perhaps that is why, when their lines tangled, and words were exchanged. Words changed to blows. And then one stooped down, picked up a rock and clubbed the other one on the head.
The injured man did not die, but he required extensive medical care and a long recuperation. Eventually he was able to move around, supported by a cane.
This was not a case of self-defense. The offender had not been in fear of losing his life; he had been angry. What should we do with him?In most states he would be charged with serious felonies: assault with a deadly weapon and probably attempted murder. If convicted he would serve a substantial prison sentence. Let us assume that this had happened four thousand years ago, in Old Testament times. How would the offender be punished?
“If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible [i.e. be executed for murder] if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.” (Ex 21: 18-19)
In other words, the offender would not be executed or go to jail. But he would be obligated to pay for the medical treatment and lost wages of the victim.
|Link to information on Dan Van Ness|
The focus of ancient law: the victim It is surprising to most people that early legal systems which form the foundation of Western law emphasized the need for offenders and their families to settle with victims and their families. The offense was considered principally a violation against the victim and the victim’s family. While the common welfare had been breached, and the community therefore had an interest and responsibility in seeing that the wrong was addressed and the offender punished, the offense was not considered primarily a crime against the state as it is today.
The full essay is available online in the collection of essay: Liberalism, Values and Lincoln-Douglas Debate (pdf) The essay begins on page 146 (in table of contents), though in pdf page number is p. 153.
Other law related articles in this collection are in image below. All were from a monthly newsletter I published for some years while working at the Foundation for Economic Education and later the Reason Foundation.