Seldom do the mainstream media invest serious column inches in Restorative Justice. Monday’s New York Times broke the long silence in its groundbreaking journalism, headlined: ‘Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?‘
Friends, this is an article that screams, “Forward Me!.”
In a nutshell, freelance writer Paul Tullis chronicles the tragic story of two Florida families facing a murder among loved ones. A teenage son, Conor McBride, shot in the head his girlfriend, Ann Margaret Grosmaire, killing her after 30-plus hours of fighting and arguing in person, on the phone and in text messages.
Parents with deep and abiding faith chose to forgive the slaughter. There is nothing glib in this story. A grueling process ensued, which is described in the NYT story. Not a single participant is “soft on crime.” The hard work of justice that restores is depicted in this complex drama.
The surviving families confront the limitations of a criminal justice system, which is focused primarily on dispensing severe punishment. In the face of their decisions to choose the painful path of forgiveness, they encounter the shortcomings of the punitive criminal justice system at every turn.
Their decisions to forgive run counter to the prevailing system of severe punishment.
Writer Paul Tullis does not gloss over the ambiguities of a restorative justice approach. There is nothing simple about this process. But he describes the intensity of the restorative community conference, consisting of everyone touched by the tragedy, including the prosecutor, the families of the son and daughter, a pastor and the attorneys involved in the process.
Tullis is especially effective in describing how the restorative justice process attempts to address the harms perpetrated on human beings who are the victims of crimes. Giving crime victims the opportunity to be heard, at length, about the harms done to them is a central feature of restorative justice.
As the nation faces the impossibility of warehousing ever-increasing numbers of its citizens, stories about the healing available through restorative processes are certain to gain wider acceptance. Finding ways of reconciling victims and offenders with each other will be increasingly crucial to the systems we use to seek justice.