Sharletta Evans met Raymond Johnson in a Colorado prison. She held his hands—the hands of her son’s killer.
Seventeen years ago, one of those fingers had snaked around a trigger and squeezed it, ending the life of her three-year-old son. The meeting allowed Evans to find closure after a long and difficult grieving process.
Johnson was only 16 years old when he and his accomplices shot 12 bullets during a drive-by, one of which killed toddler Casson Evans. Sentenced to life without parole, the teenager’s future was bleak, but two legal developments have given Johnson new hope.
First, the Supreme Court recently ruled that it is unconstitutional for juveniles to receive mandatory sentences of life without parole, which means that Johnson’s sentence may be reconsidered. Remarkably, Evans applauds this ruling because she—knows from their meeting that Johnson is a truly repentant man who deserves a second chance at life.
Second, Colorado’s pilot legislation, passed last year, gives Johnson the opportunity to face his victims. Although the court only recognizes Casson Evans as the victim to Johnson’s crime, in reality, the families and communities of victims suffer as well. Taking this into account, the new legislation allows for mediation sessions between convicts and the people they hurt. These encounters are entirely initiated by the victim or, as in Evan’s case, the victim’s family, and the parties undergo careful preparation with trained facilitators. Though this is undoubtedly a difficult process, incredible healing takes place. Read the full story of Evans and Johnson here.
Colorado’s new law creates opportunities for restorative justice—the theory that the ultimate end of criminal law isn’t merely to lock up offenders and deter potential ones, but to repair as much crime-related damage as possible.
Mediation sessions are one way to do this, but we also need to mentor prisoners to help them form a moral compass. Prisons, as well as churches and other community institutions, should be heavily involved in successful reentry programs that help newly released offenders get back on their feet and avoid recidivism. Establishing fair sentencing rules, taking care of inmates’ family members, and ensuring that crime victims know their rights throughout the legal process are other steps toward restorative justice.
Crime hurts victims and their families, destabilizes our communities, and creates a need for offenders to repent. Justice Fellowship insists on a Biblical understanding of crime, and advocates for restorative justice as the proper response to it. A Biblical view of crime calls for forgiveness, accountability, and restitution as crucial components of justice: Zacchaeus, for example, repented and made things right with those he offended by paying them back fourfold (Luke 19:1-10).
Measures of restoration may vary depending on the crime, but at its core, restorative justice seeks to carry out Biblical principles to bring healing for victims and radical changes in the lives of offenders. It is lazy to simply warehouse more and more prisoners when reconciliation and community flourishing are possible. Sharletta Evans and Raymond Johnson proved, both to us and to themselves, that the journey toward biblical restoration is worth it.