At a recent NCSL policy roundtable in Nashville, Tenn., participants heard one family’s experience with the criminal justice system.
“Our 71-year-old dad was killed abruptly one morning going to the store to purchase a light for the family truck. He was hit by a 13-year-old driver after he hit another car, sped away and ran a red light.” The family was devastated and noted that the resulting sentence for the young driver would not help them achieve justice or find closure. After months of soul searching, the family decided to take part in a restorative justice process.
Restorative justice models give people who have been harmed the opportunity to be heard, ask questions, and seek restoration and closure. It also allows those responsible for crimes to apologize and make amends. “Victims of these crimes are not getting justice in the regular system. No one can bring my dad back. But I need to know why,” one family member said. This is exactly what restorative justice is all about.
Restorative justice is one policy area being examined as states continue to reexamine and rebalance approaches to juvenile justice policy. These models typically involve family members and the community in discussions around accountability, reparations, and rehabilitation. The restorative justice model seeks to balance the needs of the victim, the individual who committed the offense, and the community by repairing the harm caused by delinquent acts.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the model “uses highly trained facilitators to help connect the responsible party with the harmed party as well as with supportive family and community members. The group works together to determine the appropriate response and, if possible, repair, involved.” All parties, including the victims, must agree to participate in the restorative justice process, while facilitators collaborate separately to prepare parties for a restorative conference to discuss what happened.
"The person harmed has an opportunity to share how they were affected and what they need to heal. The young person assumes responsibility for causing harm and articulates what they need to reduce the likelihood of it happening again. The facilitator helps participants reach an agreement that meets everyone’s needs. Solutions might include financial restitution, replacing items that were broken, lost, or completing certain chores on behalf of the person or community harmed."
Source: What is Restorative Justice for Young People?
The Nashville family worked with facilitators at the Raphah Institute for 15 months to process through their anger, before they met with the young man who killed their father. The victim’s wife of 50 years, the matriarch of the family, said it was healing to have the opportunity to hear from the young man in his own words. After speaking with him and his family, they learned he wanted to be a scientist. The family’s deep grief and complicated emotions about the process were palpable, yet each family member emphasized their satisfaction in the restorative justice process—so much that they were willing to go through the pain of the story again to tell policymakers how it works.