Restorative justice and criminal justice reform

by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz

The United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world, confirming critics’ assertion that we are operating a “prison-industrial complex.” According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the average cost of housing an inmate annually in the U.S. was $31,286 in 2012.

Of the 600,000 prisoners released back to our communities each year, two-thirds will return to prison within three years. Clearly our ideal of rehabilitation is not successful. The unintended consequences of incarceration often have a harsh impact on families and communities while their loved one is incarcerated, as do the limited options available upon their return to the community.

As a critical stakeholder in the criminal justice system, victims have often felt like a footnote in the process with few opportunities to participate in a meaningful way to have their own needs addressed.

Restorative justice principles and practices outline a way for both victims and offenders to be engaged in a legal process that includes support and accountability that strengthens the bonds of our communities.

Those principles include the understanding that crime is much more than law breaking, it creates harm for people and relationships which creates a need. A just response includes an obligation to address the needs and to “put right” the harm to the degree possible.

Addressing the needs involves those impacted, including the community. Values of respect, responsibility and a commitment to relationship provide the foundation for discerning what it means to create communities of care that address the needs created by crime.

Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz is the restorative justice coordinator for MCC U.S.

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