You may have heard about Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project (LARJP) and how it is working in our community.
You may already know that LARJP is in its eighth year of serving our community and during that time we have served 634 juveniles and their pending court cases and we have served 638 victims of crime.
And you may already know that in serving those juveniles LARJP helped save our community a substantial amount of court-related costs.
But when you think about restorative justice do you ever wonder what exactly does that mean? Is retribution and restoration the same thing or are they different?
As a crime victim myself and as a family member of an offender I have often wondered what the difference is between restorative justice and retribution. Being a volunteer with LARJP has helped put that question into perspective for me.
Most cultures of the world and the Bible look at retribution as meaning a “life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” aspect of punishment, or “let the punishment fit the crime” type of principle.
When an offender breaks the law, justice requires that he or she forfeit something of equal value so the level of punishment must be scaled to the level of the offense.
It has been said that retributive justice is in this way backward — looking like the punishment is a response to a past event of wrongdoing. It’s meant to reinforce rules that have been broken and balance the scales of justice.
Using a restorative justice approach provides a much more satisfying, comprehensive and effective understanding of the nature of wrongdoing and how to respond to it.
Because LARJP works mainly with juvenile offenders, we focus on a more forward-thinking method of repairing harm caused to a victim. We allow the offender to meet the victim if both parties agree and work out an agreeable solution that the offender is physically, mentally and/or financially capable of performing to repair the harm he or she has done to the victim and/or community.
In using this method of justice I believe we are able to preserve our communities’ values and resources by allowing juvenile offenders the chance to become better people and grow to be an asset, not only to their families but to the future of their community.
It teaches us, as community members and victims, that forgiveness is a large part of the restorative process when a juvenile offender isn’t capable of offering an “eye for eye” type of justice but is willing to do what he or she can to repair the harm he or she has caused.
This is what LARJP provides for our community:
• Holds youth accountable while they repair the harm caused to the victims, families and the community. When these teens complete the program successfully, they learn a valuable lesson.
• Give you, the victim or acquaintance the opportunity to get the answers you need when you are the target of a crime.
• Invite participants to be part of the healing process, where the group determines the restitution for the poor choice that was made by the youth(s).
• Inform the referring organization and the victim(s) when the agreed upon restitution has been completed, bringing closure to the case and allowing the youth to accept accountability for their actions.
This is why I volunteer for such a worthy cause and why I’m reaching out to you to join in the efforts of LARJP. Seeing the gratitude of the offenders, their parents and the victims when a case has been settled and all parties are satisfied with the end result is well worth the small amount of effort on our part to help make that happen.
Here’s how you can become involved, too. Our next training begins Friday, April 26. It’s free and no experience is necessary, and it doesn’t require a huge time commitment — just a willingness to help your community.
(Kathryn Kelley-Pietz is an LARJP volunteer.)