12-22 Restorative and Social Justice

I think the system of social and restorative justice here is light-years ahead of America. The more I learn about this culture, the more the punishments seem to make sense. Not in the “punishment fits the crime” sense, in the “punishment is meant to teach” sense.

While I was working for Powderhorn Neighborhood Restorative Justice, I spent a lot of time going through hardcopy files and entering what restorations individuals had done into an updated system. Glamorous, I know, but still educational. I learned a lot about the ideas of restorative justice through reading the punishments. Instead of a fine, the offender had to show receipts paid to local businesses. Instead of mandatory community service, the offender had to show proof of participating in a local charity organization. Instead of a conviction, the offender heard how prostitution effected the lives of people living in community. As the reasons for the offense came out, those were treated, too. For one man, his marriage was falling apart because they couldn’t have kids. Part of his restoration was going to a fertility clinic with his wife. And the offenders had to write a paper, detailing the effects of prostitution. Through all of that, the hope is that the men learned how their support of prostitution in the community affects the long-term and short-term community. Many times, the follow up reports said things like, “I never realized people actually lived in this area,” or “I would bring my kids to the park now.” By being educated about what it was they did wrong and forced to see its impact on the community, the hope is that they won’t reoffend. If they do, the legal punishment is much steeper.

Here, the same principles seem to apply. The first step for an incident is to go to the offenders parents. If that isn’t adequate, it goes to the community. Then it goes to the chief. Then it goes to the law. At each level, there is a time for education. The child or youngfala is told that it is inappropriate behavior, given the reason why and made to make redress. At each level the redress gets steeper and more of the community finds out about the incident. By the time it goes to the chief, the plaintiff is given time to air their complaints and the jury is usually already decided. Reputation plays a big part in that.

Community regard here is important. Your actions reflect back on everyone in your community. This kind of peerhood creates a strong incentive not to besmirched one’s name. By doing something that is “rubbish fashion” you make your entire community look bad, not just yourself. The entire community does not appreciate looking bad.

Obviously, this won’t stop someone intent on committing a crime. It does however, seem to stop casual crimes or crimes of convenience. The doors that do have locks are nothing more complex than a padlock, usual next to an open window. The livestock all roams free (much to the dismay of a lot of people), without fear of it being stolen or eaten. The gardens aren’t fenced. Children run in half-feral packs with no fear of anyone. All in all, the place seems safe.

In this small a society, these principles are easy to apply. I would like to find a way to apply them on a larger scale in the States. I think this requires a tighter community than exists many places in the US, but the underlying principles remain the same. There is a positive side to shame, but I think it is usually called respect.

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