“As a country we are really good at punishment.” So says Danielle Sared, director of the Common Justice program at the Vera Institute of Justice. “It’s passive, it doesn’t require people to act or think. It certainly doesn’t require them to change.
“When we lock people up we excuse them from their responsibility to answer for what they’ve done.”
A new video produced by Common Justice explains how the current criminal justice system doesn’t just fail those convicted of crimes, it fails those who have been harmed by those crimes. The answer to the problem, the film suggests, begins with the implementation of restorative justice principles that seek to “make things right” instead of the punitive warehousing of prisoners that currently predominates.
“Restorative Justice processes are first and foremost about meeting the needs of people who are hurt,” Sared says in the video. Sometimes the person who can make the greatest contribution to a survivor’s healing is the person who harmed them.”
A recent survey by the Alliance for Safety and Justice reveals that, contrary to conventional wisdom, a significant majority of crime victims favors rehabilitation over punitive sentences, even if that means fewer convictions.
Prison is too rarely a place for transformation. More often, it is a place where those being punished are subjected to isolation, shame, and violence—some of the very things that drove them to crime in the first place. Such an approach is a blueprint for more, not less, crime.
Both victims and perpetrators benefit when restorative alternatives to incarceration are pursued. Those who have suffered as the result of crime can begin to heal as those who harmed them do what they can to set things right. By having the chance to repair what has been broken by their actions, the guilty are given a chance to have a positive impact in the lives of others, improving their self worth and future outlook. And evidence shows that society benefits when restorative practices are pursued, with lower recidivism rates.
“People who are hurt deserve a process that will help them heal,” Sared concludes. “People who are responsible for crime have an obligation to be accountable for that. All of us deserve responses to crime that actually make us safer. Our current criminal justice system doesn’t deliver any of those, and restorative justice at its best delivers them all.”
Prison Fellowship supports the implementation of proportionate and alternative sentencing that is both just and restorative. Our “Think Outside the Bars” campaign promotes responsibility for crime and healing for all those affected by it. To learn more about the campaign, and to sign up for updates on programming in your state, click here.