Restorative justice works! This was the message of the Day of Justice held in Fresno, California, on March 16, 2012. The conference, put on by West Coast Mennonite Central Committee, featured members of local law enforcement, a judge, a leading advocate for the "three strikes" law in California, and members of the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) in Fresno.
The participants brought varied opinions and a range of perspectives on restorative justice. Restorative justice is a perspective on addressing crime that puts healing and community support at the heart of its action. While some speakers were cautious of giving full support to the restorative justice model, other panelists, such as Reedley Police Chief Joe Garza, expressed being confident that restorative justice was the direction law enforcement needed to move.
In a plenary workshop members of Fresno's VORP team told participants how the program works and ran a demonstration of a listening exercise to show the power of the dialogue model. By taking turns using positive and negative listening techniques participants were able to experience the transformative shift that open and participatory dialogue can have and glimpse what a victim offender reconciliation session might look like.
Another workshop focused on the need for advocacy on restorative justice issues and how to connect with elected officials on this topic. There was wide-ranging discussion on the need to speak to lawmakers <http://www.mcc.org/stories/news/talking-restorative-justice-washington-dc> at both the local and federal levels about the 500 percent increase in the number of persons currently in prisons or jails compared to 30 years ago <www.TheSentencingProject.com>, as well as the significant role that citizens can play in shaping future policy.
The overarching theme of the event was that restorative justice works. It is a pragmatic model that can be applied to address various issues related to crime and injustice in our society. Restorative justice practitioners and advocates claim that a different model is necessary, pointing to the record number of people in prison and the high rate at which persons who enter the system reoffend.
Not only is restorative justice more in line with Anabaptist perspectives on justice and forgiveness, but it is the experience of the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program facilitators that participants are more likely to complete restitution and less likely to offend again. Anabaptist theology teaches that God has created a world based on a justice that restores. We have an opportunity to use restorative justice practices to work for God's kingdom here on Earth.
For more information on West Coast Mennonite Central Committee's work on restorative justice visit: <http://westcoast.mcc.org/>
Visit the Washington Office page for information and resources on advocacy concerning restorative justice: