"We are still a long way from the time when our conscience can be certain of having done everything possible to prevent crime and to control it effectively so that it no longer does harm and, at the same time, to offer to those who commit crimes a way of redeeming themselves and making a positive return to society. If all those in some way involved in the problem tried to... develop this line of thought, perhaps humanity as a whole could take a great step forward in creating a more serene and peaceful society."
- Pope St. John Paul II, July 9, 2000
The evidence surrounds us: sexual and physical abuse among inmates and sometimes by corrections officers, gang violence, racial division, the absence of educational opportunities and treatment programs, the increasing use of isolation units, and society's willingness to sentence children to adult prisons—all contributing to a high rate of recidivism. Our society seems to prefer punishment to rehabilitation and retribution to restoration thereby indicating a failure to recognize prisoners as human beings.... At the same time, a Catholic approach does not give up on those who violate these laws. We believe that both victims and offenders are children of God. Despite their very different claims on society, their lives and dignity should be protected and respected. We seek justice, not vengeance.
This kind of justice is not a punitive justice, but a transformative justice that seeks to have an effect on social and institutional structures while also helping those who have been harmed or victimized. Certainly, one would be remiss to note that there are those “dangerous few” who, for their safety and for the safety of the community at large need to be kept out of circulation, so to speak. As one individual noted, “These [“dangerous few”] may well number a few hundred at any given time. But they should be kept in humane containment and encouraged to make constructive use of their time. Otherwise, imprisonment should be the very last line of resort in the sentencing process.” Catholic Social Tradition asks - how can we engender a respect for the law and a respect for the dignity and value of human life? How do we build and rebuild communities that have been broken by crime and hatred in a non-violent way? Although for some the concept of restorative justice may seem like the proverbial “slap-on-the-wrist” forgiveness - “soft on crime,” it goes much deeper. Restorative justice is not simply a washing away of past faults. At the same time, as Stephen J. Pope notes, holding the offender accountable for their past faults is different than “defining him as the worst thing he ever did. Likewise, incarceration need not be equated with moral banishment from the human race. Recalling the basic human dignity of the offender can bolster societal hopes for rehabilitation. This shifts the focus from condemnation to conversion, offering the possibility of a reconciled community of both victims and convicts.” By examining the history of restorative justice - its context and backdrop - as well as the role of restorative justice in prison systems, one can better come to understand its transformative role in the human person and in society.
A Brief History of Restorative JusticeThe Native Americans have a long tradition of restorative justice practices. The Najavo have long upheld peacemaking as a form of justice, and base this on their principle of k’e - solidarity. This solidarity concerns the feelings that we share with others, including compassion, friendliness, unselfishness and others. The other Najavo principle is that of k’ei, which concerns an individual’s kinship or connectedness with others. In this system, the individual tells their life story, to further a sense of hozho (harmony or peace). There are cases of women who were raped as children sharing their story and shocking their family, which has in many cases helped the family know their daughter or sister more, and provides a sense of completeness to the family. Something rather similar exists with the Maori tribe in New Zealand.
In the United States, current practices of restorative justice have grown out of the civil rights movement, prisoner rights movement and the mental health movement, as well as the movements of indigenous peoples in the 1960s and 1970s. There have been a number of attempts, such as reparation programs, compensation programs and restitution programs. This monetary compensation can in some instances be of great benefit for the victim, however, in the case of murder, monetary compensation does not bring back a loved one nor does it make up for any psychological damage. Notably, restorative justice is not only at work in the United States, but is also present in England, Germany, France and elsewhere. One is then inclined to ask - how is restorative justice at work in prisons systems?
Restorative Justice Programs for Prisoners
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them...” (Hebrews 13:3)Restorative justice does not take place solely in prison systems. It also occurs in the workforce, in schools and elsewhere. In fact, the majority of restorative programs occur outside of the prison, for a number of reasons - primarily that it is easier for offenders to make amends when they are not in prison. However, restorative programs in prisons do indeed exist. Daniel Van Ness from the PFI Centre for Justice and Reconciliation Prison Fellowship International helpfully points out four stages of restorative justice in prisons:
- The first is when a prisoner decides that he or she would like to meet with the victim.
- The second is when leaders in the prison promotes restorative justice - “corrections” - in the sense of probation and parole. This gives the offender the opportunity to live outside of the prison while also “doing time.”
- The third is when those who work in prisoner rehabilitation promote the prisoner’s responsibility to those they have harmed and victimized as a necessary part of their reintegration.
- The fourth way is when a victim decides that they would like to meet with the offender.
Now, one of the other goals of restorative justice is to form an environment or culture within the prison in which conflict can be resolved peacefully. In order to do so, a number of steps are taken. Prisoners are taught how to deal with conflict in a peaceful manner. One project developed by the Quakers on resolving conflict is used world-wide. But perhaps one of the most ambitious - one may say utopian in its aim - is to create a culture and environment in which the prisoner’s entire being is completely transformed - the “Virtuous Prison.” This is a prison in which restorative and rehabilitation go hand in hand in order to develop values and moral excellence in the prisoners, so that their end goal - or telos - would be to become a moral person. There are, of course, a number of challenges to this “Virtuous Prison,” as well as examples that come close to such an ambitious goal.
Challenges of Restorative Justice and APACAmong the many challenges of restorative justice is the standard operation of prisons. Prisons tend to control the lives of their inmates, which makes it difficult for the offenders to have much personal responsibility - a key component of restorative justice. In fact, “Barb Toews, who has worked on restorative justice initiatives in Pennsylvania prisons, found that many prisoners would like to have direct or indirect contact with their victims, but they are prohibited by law from contacting them. So they wait, hoping that the victim will initiate contact.” But the control exercised over the inmates - which makes the offenders themselves victims of power - add roadblocks to practices of restorative justice. Further, the subcultures found within prisons are often deviant in nature, which understandably makes rejecting such deviance difficult for some prisoners. There are also many prisons that threaten to use physical violence, which makes peaceful conflict resolution difficult to use in the lives of the offenders.
On the other hand, despite the challenges and difficulties that those advocating for restorative justice face, the seemingly ambitious “virtuous prison” may not be so ambitious. There is a Brazilian affiliate of Prison Fellowship, the acronym of which (in Portuguese) is APAC. These prisons do not make use of use no correctional staff nor do they use police officers. They are instead run solely by members of the community who volunteer their time in order to live out their conviction of the love of God as expressed toward the prisoners. The fact that they receive no payment is intended to demonstrate their commitment of love. There is a strong emphasis for the prisoners on family and on love. If their family does not love them, the prisoner will be provided with a “god-parent,” and prisoners are given positions “of trust,” such as the doorkeeper to the prison or similar tasks.
"I was... in prison and you visited me." (Matthew 25:36)The social movement of restorative justice, particularly as it relates to Catholic Social Tradition, is centered around healing, forgiveness, mercy, love, reconciliation and compassion. The Catholic Social Tradition would hold that everyone and everything is interconnected, and that as such, our actions have an impact on those around us. Restorative justice recognizes the human dignity in each person and seeks to restore it as much as possible. To be sure, it does not and cannot solve the systematic issues that cause many of these crimes, but it can begin the healing process. It can lead to the transformation of the human person, which can lead, ultimately, to a transformation in the societal structure. Instead of focusing on how to punish the offender, restorative justice instead focuses on how to repair the damage that has been done.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called men and women everywhere, of every religious tradition to teach others right from wrong, to teach a respect for human dignity as well as a respect for the law. It encourages us to stand with those who have been victimized and effected by the devastating effects of crime. It also encourages us to reach out through love to the offender and their families. In fact, one suggestion put forth by the Bishops was to develop parish mentoring programs for those who are getting out of prison and intending on reintegrating into society. This puts an emphasis on reconciliation, forgiveness and the responsibility not just for the victim(s) and offender(s), but also for the community - for the whole Body of Christ.
To be sure, as a psychotherapist once said, “Not everything can be repaired, even with the best will in the world; it is not just a matter of trying harder or having a positive attitude or finding the right affirmation. Limitations, born of history and character, made us who we are. To know that some damage can only be contained, never undone, is both tragic and true - as well as strangely comforting.” Therein lies the difference between healing and curing. To cure someone is to remove the problem, but to heal someone is an ongoing process, not always necessarily with a promise of a cure. Restorative justice cannot answer all of the world’s challenges and hurts, but it can begin to heal those who have both hurt and been hurt. It can begin the process of reconciliation, regardless of how foolish or bold that may seem. Each human being has dignity that ought to be upheld - so that moving forward, the question Christian and non-Christian alike must ask is, “how can I continue a lifelong love for other human beings and continue to promote that within these different parts of society? How can I uphold justice and restoration?” Although some hurts go too deep, we are called as beings to love victims and offenders as we all share one major thing in common: our humanity.
“If all those in some way involved in the problem tried to... develop this line of thought, perhaps humanity as a whole could take a great step forward in creating a more serene and peaceful society."
Pope St. John Paul II
 "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice." Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 15 Nov. 2000. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
 Sullivan, Dennis and Larry Tift. Restorative Justice: Healing the Foundations of our Everyday Lives. Monsey: Willow Tree Press, 2001. 1st ed. 10. Print.
 Shapland, Joanna. Restorative Justice and Prisons: Presentation to the Commission on English Prisons. University of Sheffield. 7 November 2008. 2. Web.
 United States Conference of Bishops.
 Consedine, Jim. Restorative Justice – Healing the Effects of Crime. Warsaw: Restorative Justice and Probation Conference. 2 December 2003. 2. Web.
 Pope, Stephen J. “Seeking Restorative Justice in the Prison System: From Condemnation to Conversation”. America. November 21, 2001. 14. Web.
 Sullivan and Tift 51-55.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 16-17.
 Van Ness, Daniel W. “Session 204: The Practice of Restorative Justice in Prison Reform.”
PFI Centre for Justice and Reconciliation Prison Fellowship International. 1. Web.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 6.
 Consedine 2-3.
 Sullivan and Tift 31.