Restorative Justice

“I believe it is possible to both address the seriousness of an incident and the need for accountability, while extending support and compassion to one who both accepts responsibility and commits to resolve their failing.”

Any idea who made this statement? A thoughtful theologian? An empathetic educator? An understanding parent? The quote comes from Chris Standiford, Athletic Director for Gonzaga University. It was in response to a DUI infraction by much loved and respected Gonzaga men’s basketball coach, Mark Few.

Here are coach Few’s words with regard to the incident:
“I have had a month to reflect on the regretful decisions I made on Sept. 6,” Few said in a statement. “I again offer my sincere apology and I remain committed to learning from this mistake. I know this impacts our student-athletes and the coaching staff as we begin the season. I understand the severity of my actions and am sorry for the impact this consequence has on our team.”

Many of us have sat on both sides of the table. We have been the offender and we have been the person responsible for navigating the consequences for the offense. I, for one, am eternally grateful for parents, teachers, coaches and employers who modeled healthy responses to the errors of my way. Each helped me understand the importance of taking responsibility for my actions, while not diminishing their support and care for me as a person. Their tutelage was critical not only for my own learning but also in guiding my actions when I am the person helping others with the consequences of their choices.

Unfortunately, I have also been a part of communities, organizations, employers who have chosen to live in a punitive paradigm rather than one of reconciliation and restoration. The approach to the offender is to diminish, denigrate and shame for choices made. And in my experience, perhaps not coincidentally, each one of these contexts had a high level of cultural unhealthiness.

The frame of “addressing the seriousness of an incident and the need for accountability, while extending support and compassion” is about restorative justice. My favorite definition of restorative justice comes from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in South Africa (a place that knows much about truth and reconciliation), “Restorative Justice must promote the dignity of victims and offenders, and ensure that there is no domination or discrimination.” The desired outcome is clear – accountability and reconciliation between parties rather than denigration of an individual.

While often used in a legal context, a restorative justice approach is applicable to any situation where an offense has occurred and reconciliation is the desired outcome. The Crisis and Trauma Institute offers these five helpful goals for restorative justice:
• Invite full participation and consensus.
• Work towards healing what has been broken.
• Seek direct accountability.
• Reintegrate where there has been division.
• Strengthen the community and individuals to prevent further harms.

The journey of life is filled with choices. Each of us will make choices that have negative consequences for ourselves and others. The choice is when that moment occurs will we take responsibility if we are the offender and will we provide a pathway to reconciliation if we are the offended. There is a clear path that does respect the dignity of every person.

Move now into the broken world.
Travel with an intense determination
To find your way into healing,
To take the message of reconciliation
With you,
Within you, – d365 Daily Devotion

4 thoughts on “Restorative Justice”

  1. I’m working for CHUM in Duluth, and we hold the contract to provide chaplains for the juvenile center, jail, and corrections center. We are looking for a PT chaplain for the corrections center to continue a program of support and expanding restorative justice among the community we serve. If any of your readers are interested?

  2. Wonderful piece! A view from this lens could transform how outcomes in leadership look moving forward. Onward with Empathy….

  3. I agree — well said, and takes us all more deeply into the restorative justice that I concur – we all need to embrace in this moment of such division amongst us all. Thank you for your perspective – your reflection and words…a true blessing for this moment…

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