Restorative justice: An approach to criminal justice

Albert L. Wysocki, A Professional Corporation

Serious crimes, especially violent crimes, can result in very harsh punishments in Illinois for those who are convicted. But should all defendants who are convicted of federal crimes or other serious offenses be required to serve lengthy prison sentences? Are there other ways of making sure criminals face consequences for their actions without putting them in jail for the majority of their lives?

Although folks who are guilty of committing serious offenses should face consequences for their actions, what might be appropriate in one case might not always be appropriate in another case. To find a better balance between justice and punishment, some criminal justice systems are using a method called “restorative justice,” which involves the victims of criminal acts and the offender as well as a mediator and another party to represent the community’s interests. Together, these parties come up with a way to resolve the criminal case.

Usually, restorative justice is used when defendants face somewhat minor crimes. But restorative justice was opted for in the recent case of a 19-year-old man who shot and killed his 19-year-old girlfriend. The two were very close, but everything changed drastically one afternoon after a lengthy argument. Instead of resolving matters, the couple continued to argue until the man got a gun and shot his girlfriend. After the incident, the man turned himself in to police.

The man faced spending the rest of his life in prison for murder. However, the victim’s parents agreed to a process called restorative justice, in which all parties involved in the crime took part in resolving the issue and determining an appropriate punishment for the defendant.

As part of the process, the victim’s parents, along with the man’s parents, the man himself, a mediator and an objective third party to represent the community’s interests all met in one room. The defendant explained what happened and what led to him committing the crime. Each party then spoke in turn and voiced their beliefs about a just term of punishment for the offender. After this process, the man was given two punishment options. He chose to serve 20 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation, as opposed to serving 25 years in prison.

Source: The New York Times, “Can forgiveness play a role in criminal justice?” Paul Tullis, Jan. 4, 2013

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Restorative justice: An approach to criminal justice