Restorative justice is a beautiful way to move away from the concept of merely punishing a crime, instead moving toward the healing of broken relationships. Sister Eileen Reilly explains this powerful, alternative system of justice.
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This Random Nun Clip is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry.
I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Eileen Reilly with the Catholic Mobilizing Network. As its name suggests, the Network mobilizes people across the country to value life over death, to end the death penalty, and to transform the US criminal justice system and society to embrace restoration and healing instead of punishment. Among the many groups the Catholic Mobilizing Network works with are congregations of Catholic Sisters. Sister Eileen, in her role as religious engagement associate, helps Catholic Sisters nationwide in their efforts to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice.
Restorative justice as a as a concept that's coming into its own more and more. It's an attempt to create a system of justice that is not like the current one we have. So in our criminal justice system, the focus is on what law was broken, and what punishment is appropriate for this person who broke this law. Whereas restorative justice would say, "What harm was done? Who was harmed? And how can we heal that harm, or at least help to heal that harm?"
And so it goes toward the repair of relationships, and community healing.
Exactly. And it recognizes that that community that was harmed is not only the individual who was, let's say, robbed, but that individual's family who is then trying to help with the situation. It's a bigger issue. And instead of focusing on the perpetrator, we focus on those who are harmed, and how can they be held. And sometimes the perpetrator can help with that healing. So instead of just a "lock them up and throw away the key" approach, it's a dialogic approach.
And it seems to be one that calls for, in a sense, some vulnerability. Being opened to--on the part of somebody whose life may have been impacted greatly by the crime--to be open to that reconciliation, instead of saying, "I just want this person imprisoned. I want the problem, so to say, solved or ended."
Exactly, yes. And that kind of healing, when it when it can happen, is ideal. And it happens in a very structured system. So we talk about restorative justice circles. First of all, before we would have one of these circles, everyone has to agree to it because everybody isn't willing to sit down with the person who harmed them, understandably. But if they are, and if the person doing the harm is willing, then restorative justice circle would be convened. And that circle would include anyone who was harmed, in any way by this crime, and it also could include some support people. And the opportunity then is taken to really let the person who did the harm hear what it meant. You know, "How do I feel after you broke into my home, and now I can't ever feel safe in my home again," that kind of thing. And that person needs to hear that. And then also, so often, the victims of crime have questions that they want answers to. You know, "Why me? Why did you pick me? Why did you pick my house? Why did you pick this person? What was going on in your head? Did you think about the implications?" So those kinds of questions can be discussed and talked about in a very structured way, with a facilitator that's careful and direct in terms of the way the conversation goes.
And I could imagine that hearing answers to those questions could bring a great deal of peace as well. I mean, those unanswered questions probably tend to just live with the person for a while.
Oh, absolutely. And haunt them. I can think of experienced myself, years ago when I was living in Boston, and I was mugged. You know, I just got out of a car and was walking into a church and these kids came up behind me, pushed me down so that they could grab my pocketbook and run. And, I mean, the implications of that went on for a long time. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, I was constantly worried that it was going to happen again.
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.