Webinar presenter Margaret Crowley answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Crime and Punishment: Exploring Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: We have an audience member who shared, “In Reedley California, Restorative Justice does work, we’ve been doing restorative justice under the name of the Reedley Peace Building Initiative. Since 2011, we’ve maintained a 6% recidivism rate for all offenders who have gone through the RJ process. We target low-level crimes and school discipline issues.” So, what a lovely testimonial for the topic that you were just talking about.
Margaret M. Crowley: That’s amazing. I mean, a 6% recidivism rate is incredible and makes you really think about, if we get more widely practice restorative justice in all kinds of contacts, what that you for our entire country. So, thank you so much, I love hearing your experience, and that, it works. So, thanks for that.
Audience Question: Are there categories of crimes for which restorative justice is, just simply not appropriate, such as violent offenses, or felonies? What’s your take on that, Margaret?
Margaret M. Crowley: My take is no, probably not. Because I think about murder, the worst crime. That is an instance where you have generally, friends and family members who have lost a loved one, and they have those questions. They have those questions of why, they have the need to tell their stories. To tell the offender, here is who you took from me, these are the real consequences of your action. And I know there are restorative justices that do tackle bigger crimes. So, I think it comes down much more not to look at it as are there categories of crimes, but instead looking at it as, is this something that the victim needs? Because if it is, then it’s a great process.
Audience Question: What types of offenses seemed to result in the greatest successes using restorative justice?
Margaret M. Crowley: That is a great question too. Which I do not know the answer to. I would lay money that there are studies out there that probably break down, the actual offenses that may —– that answer. A lot of the studies are really studying broader principles, but there are so many out there. And it’s a great question, I wish. I wish I had the answer to that, but I do not.
Audience Question: Is restorative justice ever appropriate before conviction? Or does that carry too much potential for undue victim pressure, unfulfilled victim expectations, and manipulation of the victim, by the offender?
Margaret M. Crowley: I think you may have named it right there, what the real risks of that can be. Because, obviously, the concept here is to empower the victim among other things, and allow the victim to really tell the story in a way that it can be heard. And if you are doing it pre-conviction, it’s very hard to assess what state the offender is in. Is the offender trying to negotiate, is the vendor trying to find excuses, is the offender trying to wiggle out of it. And I think there’d be so much danger that that could creep into the session. Mediators have control in some ways over a session but there are a lot of things, they don’t have control over, what’s going to come out of somebody’s mouth. And I like to look at it as a mediator, I’ve taken the Hippocratic oath which is first do no harm. I never want to do more harm than has already been done. So, I think it could be very, very scary territory to do it, pre.
Audience Question: Assuming a primary requisite for victims must be no further trauma through the RJ process like you were just talking about. How do we ensure the perpetrator is appropriate or in an appropriate place for victim mediation contact? And for context for his unique situation, he’s saying, “I’m a parole officer who supervises domestic violence cases. I work with some individuals who do not have empathy for their survivors or simply are not accountable. They can be also quite good at manipulating power brokers such as judges or providers to further traumatize and further victimize these survivors.” What a huge question, Margaret, where do you begin?
Margaret M. Crowley: I think there are two questions there. One is a broader question of assessing perpetrators in general. There are a ton of tools, so just like there are a ton of studies, there are a lot of organizations whose primary focus is restorative justice, they have tools for assessing exactly that. Is this appropriate on both sides, not just the victim, but the offender? So, I would start the question there by ensuring whoever is administering the restorative justice knows what they’re doing. Has those tools. Narrowing it down to your domestic violence question. That’s why, that’s why I have that slide up there, about it is it’s not an accepted practice and at this juncture because of those concerns. I work with a lot, a lot of DV cases because they are a very big, big part of child abuse and neglect. So, I hear what you’re saying. I have seen that in my mediations. And sometimes there’s a question, is mediation even appropriate for domestic violence? So, I think your questions are, right. And I think they’re honing in on exactly the points you should be. So, we go to the narrow, it still means working with an organization that is well informed, who probably has, if they’re going to even look at domestic violence cases, is going to have a protocol that is specific just to domestic violence.
Audience Question: How can the person who did the harm ever repair something so serious as death, or sexual assault, or things that are permanently impactful to the victim or their surviving family members?
Margaret M. Crowley: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And obviously, no one can ever go back in time. This is such a factor in any mediation. You can’t undo what has happened. What has brought people to your table? Like I was talking about earlier, with murder. Part of the repair is allowing a victim to heal, and a lot of healing comes through information. It comes through knowing why, it comes through, being able to tell your story. There is an enormous healing component that comes with looking that person in the eye and saying, this is who this person was that you killed. It’s not an eye for an eye, right? We know that that’s impossible. But it is so much better than a family or a community having to live with not knowing why did this kid weekend targeted that particular grocery store? He had reasons, from what I’m hearing and being able to understand that. And to talk about it and to tell it, that’s what begins healing. And so, we can’t create the impossible, but we can certainly create something that improves upon what we have, which is, simply going into court and watching someone being sentenced that’s often not enough for a victim.
Audience Question: Do you advocate for the inclusion of elders in these processes? Either a community or a neighborhood elder, just somebody who’s respected? It is automatic and tribal communities. But how, what do you think about having that elder person in a particular neighborhood or community?
Margaret M. Crowley: I think it’s a great idea. And as you all know, I don’t practice restorative justice, but I can make an analogy to mediation because I do a lot of guardianship mediation. And part of my question there is, how does the elder fit into the process? Because you have someone who is vulnerable, you may have someone lacking capacity, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a voice in the process. So, I think it’s a fantastic idea to include elders who can share such a wealth of experience, and whoever facilitates that, should be looking at questions like, what kind of shape is this elder in? Is this somebody who you know is still really physically and mentally agile, having them in the whole thing? Is this somebody who can deliver an important message but doesn’t have the wherewithal to sit through the whole process? Then we’ll create the process around that. That person will come in, give a perspective and then maybe exit the process. So, so absolutely, I think all elements of the community should be involved in restorative justice when the harm has been to the community.
Audience Question: Does the effectiveness of restorative justice vary between first-time offenders versus serial or repeat offenders?
Margaret M. Crowley: That’s a fabulous question. Don’t know the answer but could guess the answer. If you have someone who was the first crime, gone out, and committed other crimes, I’m guessing it’s just less effective. I mean, we know we have sociopaths, right? No matter what they see, no matter what they do, nothing is going to change that. And it also may depend on when. You know, brain development has to come into this. A juvenile, who maybe goes through restorative justice at 17, his or her brain is not going to be fully developed until 25 or 26. So it may not take root until that brain is fully developed, so I should know lots of pieces that could fit into that.
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