Restorative Justice—What is It?
Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Or were you the offender? As a victim, you might ask yourself, “what did I do to deserve this?”; “why would anyone try to hurt me?”; or “is there any way, other than going to court, to get past this?” As an offender, you might ask or say to yourself, “what the hell did I do?”; “I have to fix this, I have to apologize”; or “what is wrong with me?” There are ways to handle situations like these outside the court system, one of which includes participating in restorative justice programs.
What is a Restorative Justice?
Howard Zehr, commonly known as “the grandfather of restorative justice,” defines restorative justice as “a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in an offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things right as possible.”
As the Minnesota Department of Corrections has described, restorative justice is a concept that grants the opportunity for both the victim and offender to express their thoughts and feelings to one another about the incident that occurred. This is done with the hope that the victim and offender receive closure. Restorative justice focuses on the victim, but it also on the offender and the community.
What is the Difference between Court Justice and Restorative Justice?
The Minnesota Department of Corrections has provided the following chart which explains the differences between court justice and restorative justice. The key difference between the two types of justice is restorative justice looks at the bigger picture instead of solely punishing the offender for their actions as they would be under court justice. Instead, restorative justice focuses on 2 main aspects: (1) healing the victim and (2) restoring “justice” through understanding the harms caused not only to the victim but also to the community.
Restorative Justice Programs in Minnesota
There are many restorative justice programs throughout Minnesota. One such program is ETHOS. ETHOS is a diversion program in St. Paul, Minnesota and it stands for “Engaging community, Taking responsibility, Healing, Overcoming obstacles, and Sustainable solutions.” First-time, non-violent misdemeanor offenders are considered eligible participants for this specific program. In ETHOS, the eligible participants will participate in what is called “Circle.” This is a conversation between community volunteers who are trained in the practice of restorative justice, victims, and the offender. The foundation of this conversation is to understand the impact of the offender’s action, but it then builds off that to mollify the incident.
If I want to look into Restorative Justice, where do I Start?
Since every county is different, the first place to start is the county where the incident occurred. You should see whether that county offers restorative justice programs. However, if they don’t, don’t fret! Some counties will grant access to participate in their programs even if the crime was committed in another county.