“It is I who bring both death and life,” our loving God reminds us in Deuteronomy 32, but still five states (Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia) have executions scheduled from August to December of 2022. This is the bad news. But the good news is that we have many dedicated people working diligently to bring an end to the death penalty, as those of Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) and Death Penalty Action (DPA). Several of DPA have said that their goal is to put themselves out of a job! (And I surely hope they do this…and soon!)  These and many others are the dedicated folks who plan and attend the prayer vigils via Zoom or are present at the prisons when this deed is done, as Mary was present at the foot of the cross at the state execution of her Son.

Presently there is a tiny seed of hope that I see germinating in the Criminal Justice System of our country. It is called Restorative Justice:  a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with the victims and the community at large. CMN and DPA share the following information:

Restorative justice is a set of principles and practices that create a different approach to dealing with crime and its impacts. Restorative justice practices work to address the dehumanization frequently experienced by people in the traditional criminal justice system. Instead of viewing a criminal act as simply a violation of a rule or statue, restorative justice sees this action as a violation of people and relations.

Restorative justice seeks to examine the harmful impact of a crime and then determines what can be done to repair that harm while holding the person who caused it accountable for his or her actions. Accountability for the offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done. Outcomes seek to both repair the harm and address the reasons for the offense, while reducing the likelihood of re-offense. Rather than focusing on the punishment meted out, restorative justice measures results by how successfully the harm is repaired.

Additionally, restorative justice seeks to include those most directly affected by a crime in the justice process, namely victims and survivors. Rather than a process focused on the offender, restorative justice focuses on those who have been harmed and the harms they have experienced. In the restorative justice process, victims are empowered to participate more fully than in the traditional system. Likewise, the community plays an important role in the restorative process by establishing standards of conduct, helping to hold an offender accountable, and providing support to the parties involved and opportunities to help repair the harm that has occurred. The opportunity to express the harm a victim has experienced, full participation in decision making, and support from the community all aid in the healing in the aftermath of a serious crime.
Restorative justice is based on the fact that crime causes harm. What is justice then?  It is healing the harm. Restorative justice states that those most affected by the crime should participate in the healing. This stands in contrast to most methods of justice, which tend to focus on punishment and retribution. Restorative justice has had positive results. A study in 2007 found that restorative justice programs have both the highest rate of victim satisfaction and offender accountability of any justice method.

The following are examples of this concept in practice:

Victim assistance

Being the victim of crime is often traumatic. Community support groups and mental health services can offer psychological help and physical resources to help people recover and continue with their lives.

Community service

When someone commits a crime, they are harming the victims and the community as a whole. Community service can help the offender get an idea of the harm they have caused and provide them an opportunity to help in the healing.

Victim-offender mediation
In this restorative justice example, a victim and offender talk to each other. A trained mediator facilitates. The goal is for the parties to agree on how justice should be fulfilled. The victim chooses to participate.

Peacemaking circles

Many restorative justice programs are based in indigenous cultures. Peacemaking circles are one of them. In the 1980s, circles were adapted for the criminal justice system thanks to the work of the Yukon people and justice officials.

Family group conferencing

Another method based in indigenous thinking, has roots in the Māori people and their Whañau

conferences. Whañau conferences have helped the community deal with youth who have harmed others in some way. They establish how to deal with juvenile offenders without processing them through the courts.

The above information from CMN and DPA has helped me to have hope, hope that something is being done to end the death penalty in our country and that rehabilitation is being done for both the offender and the offended. Catholic Mobilizing Network is inviting parishes and organizations to start Restorative Justice groups. CMN have online orientation classes to help with this great service to our communities.

If you, as a reader of this Blog, wishes to have more information (as I did) regarding the death penalty and restorative justice, simply go to “search” on your computers. Death Penalty Action (DPA) and Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) will keep us informed and we can give them our support as well. Let us continue to choose life!

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.”—Dt. 20

—By Kathy Neely, OSU