What Is Justice?
We think of Leviticus, and the texts conjure up images of harsh justice, strict rules, “an eye for an eye.”
But the justice that emerged in the wilderness was much more than simply rules for naming and punishing wrongdoing. In the wilderness the Hebrews learned covenant justice, built on shalom. This was a way of living, not just punishing the wrongdoer but fashioning ways to bring the wrongdoer back into the community of the chosen, to restore wholeness and just relationships.
Today’s criminal justice system, in contrast, focuses on punishing the offender, with very little attention being given to how victims have been harmed and how they and the community as a whole may best be healed.
Restorative Justice seeks to hold offenders accountable not only to the state but also to the specific victims and communities that have been harmed by crime. When an offender accepts responsibility for his or her actions, the door is opened for dialogue that can help the offender realize the consequences of his or her actions. Often that dialogue leads to the offender’s taking positive steps to help repair the harm done by the criminal act – through financial recompense, community service, apology, and other actions.
Restorative justice is not “soft” justice; it requires offenders to face up to the consequences of their actions, to take moral as well as legal responsibility, and to pay for their mis-deeds in concrete ways that help to repair the harm done. Sometimes restorative practices lead to incarceration; sometimes they do not. But they always open the door to accountability and to healing for the victim, the offender, and the community they inhabit.
In North Alabama, United Methodists are working to encourage the use of restorative practices as a part of our criminal justice system, working with courts, law enforcement, and social service agencies to heal victims and restore community as well as to hold offenders accountable for their choices and seek to change such decisions in the future.
Click here for information on Restorative Justice from The United Methodist Church.
Click here to read about how one Alabama court is using restorative practices in cases of serious crimes.
For more information on Restorative Justice in Alabama and ways that YOU can help, e-mail team convener Anne Wheeler at email@example.com.