I have a strong passion for the topic I am about to speak on. As a former correctional officer working with both Juveniles and adult offenders, I could see very little difference in their thought patterns. Prisons and detention facilities are supposed to act as a deterrent to criminal activity. I mean being unpleasant, potential offenders are suppose to be afraid of going to prisons. However, I found out that it doesn’t work that way. The criminal mind works a lot different than the common man.
Criminals enjoy the excitement and risks. They do not anticipate capture; they instead focus on what they want. As a correctional officer working in a juvenile detention center I would always be amazed at the attitude of a new offender coming in. The offender would come in and it would be like a family reunion was going on. High fives, shouting of nicknames all this because many of their friends would be there. With no structured program going on for the youth, within weeks sometimes months, the same youth would return coming back worse than before.
I began thinking, if you want to change the man, then you must first change his mind. Restorative Justice involves creating a dialogue between the victim, the offender, and the community to repair the harm caused by the crime. Together these parties determine the punishment and restitution. This method supports the victims and allows them to be part of the Justice process, increases offender awareness of how their actions affect others, and makes certain that the offenders get the education or treatment they need to avoid further criminal activity (Anderson, 1999).
As a correctional officer, I noticed that imprisonment often did very little to rehabilitate the criminal or repair the damage done to the victim and the community. Prisons teach depravity and have an adverse affect on the mind. Criminals learn better how to commit crimes when in prison instead of how to become productive members of society. Restorative Justice is more than a program and services. It’s a technique that addresses the true reason of why a crime was committed by the offender, repairing the damage caused, and giving the victim a voice in the process (Aitkin, 2004).
Being a probation officer working with young offenders, I found that applying these techniques along with treatment programs and services lowered the recidivism rate among the cases assign to me. I mean wanting revenge and attribution is normal and understandable. It is human to want someone else to detest is not the answer either. Restorative Justice is a systematic response to wrongdoing that requires restoration to victims in cash or in kind and sincere repentance.
Retributive Justice rarely focuses on healing, victims, communities, restoration, or changes of heart and mind. During my time as a correctional officer, I met many young offenders who had no sense of moral responsibility because they though their crimes were against the government or property. It did not occur to them that their crimes might have traumatized a human being. What restorative justice does is it puts awareness of damages to victims at the top of the agenda, and it’s often done in confrontational discussion settings (Aitkin, 2004).
A few of the main criticism of restorative Justice is many people believe that treatment programs for offenders is not tough enough and it makes prisons more tolerable and less punitive, it fails to provide adequate protection for individuals rights, it puts pressure on the victim, and it plays on offenders conscience and wouldn’t really affect a repeat offender who is used to committing crimes (Monomer, 2011). Some people ask why would convicted felons receive services for free while hard working law abiding people have to pay for them.
As a result of this kind of thinking we have Jails and prisons overcrowded due to enormous rates of recidivism. Restorative Justice is not appropriate for all crimes. However, in crimes or conflict where it is appropriate, its success is shown by the reduced recidivism. I feel that this is a very viable alternative sanction to traditional punishment because restorative Justice takes a victim-centered approach that engages all parties in trying to move forward from the harm of the crime. It attempts to address the deeds of the victims, the community, and the offender caused by the harmful behavior.