Restorative justice can be a powerful tool

Tough justice "¦ making offenders accountable and holding their feet to the fire. We all know that it is necessary; surprisingly it is not being done. However, there is hope — right here in Jackson County.

We all want to feel safe from the actions of criminal behavior. But if simply locking people up did the job then why are more people in prison? Why does our county jail have to let people go to make room? In addition, why are the judges in Jackson County overwhelmed with cases?

Punishment alone does not hold the offender accountable. Punishment does not cause offenders to face the harm they have done, nor does it hold them responsible to fulfill the obligations created by that harm. As a dramatic example, some repeat offenders find no problem being arrested, convicted, or spending time behind bars. Punishment does nothing to change their attitude toward the victim and the community.

There is something that can make a difference. What if offenders faced the impact of their actions on the victims and the community? What if offenders became responsible to repair the material damage and address the personal and social damage caused by their actions? What if offenders spent more time thinking of the victims of their crime than on seeing themselves as the victims?

At a public seminar on June 19 Howard Zehr and Aaron Lyons presented a model that makes just that kind of difference. People from our community, leaders and citizens alike, heard on that day about a model of justice that applied around the world. Jackson County Community Justice, the Jackson County Commission on Children and Families, United Way of Jackson County, and Mediation Works sponsored the event.

The model has three primary concerns:

  • Address the victim's harms and needs.
  • Hold offenders accountable to right those harms.
  • Involve the victims, offenders and communities in the process.

This model of justice is successfully used in Jackson County in a few ways. The model is called restorative justice, but that title doesn't serve well to describe what is being done. A better title just might be tough justice.

The juvenile justice system of Jackson County is already using a widely employed practice of restorative justice to bring young offenders and their victims together. In this encounter, victims have the opportunity to get answers, state their needs and, to their level of comfort, be involved in the process. The offender can truly learn by seeing the impact of their crime. Led by a skilled facilitator, the victim and the offender sometimes meet face to face — and the offender's feet are held right next to the fire created by their crime.

Almost always, this form of justice leads offenders to understand how much hurt, anger, pain and suffering they have caused — something they seldom learn in court, jail or prison.

There were 110 people from our community who heard Howard Zehr and Aaron Lyons share this model of tough justice. After the event, a group of community leaders came together to see where the model could be used, tested or expanded. We can expect to be hearing more from them in the future on how this can be applied to adults as well as juveniles.

Tough justice is necessary for victims' needs to be met, and to make a change in the attitude of those committing crimes. The toughest form of justice forces offenders to see the pain and suffering they have caused — making them see beyond themselves as victims. The toughest form of justice holds offenders responsible to address the emotional and material damage they have caused. With that, even victims can begin to actually experience justice — not just see the offender get more attention than they do.

If you are a citizen, victim, criminal justice worker or elected official, this new model will affect you. We will be hearing more about this model in the months and years ahead.

The model is not the be-all and end-all solution to crime, but it is a powerful tool. For now you can learn more about this form of tough justice through an Internet search for "restorative justice" or by calling Matthew Hartman at Mediation Works, 770-2468 ext. 305.

John Statler represents Ward 3 on the Medford City Council.

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