July | August 2019

OJJDP Administrator's Video Message: Restorative Justice

Caren Harp: The juvenile justice system, as it operates currently, is formal and uses a lot of statutory language and citations and it keeps the youthful offender away from the victim and allows the offender only to speak through his attorney and there are just a lot of processes in place that make it kind of sterile and keep the offender from really engaging with his criminal conduct.

That's something that restorative justice changes because restorative justice looks at crime as harm, not as a violation of a statute necessarily, but as harm caused by one individual to the detriment of another—it's victim centered.

And, for victims, crime is personal. Crime isn't violation of a statute. It's intrusion into their personal space or into their bodies. It is harm to them, and it's personal. And, a restorative process for both victim and for the offender, helps them both come together face-to-face and evaluate and assess the harm that's been done and how that harm can be repaired.

Anne Seymour, Director of Justice Solutions’ Fairness, Dignity & Respect for Crime Survivors project, Washington, DC: I think it's really important when we're survivor centered to put the victim at the center of the equation to make sure we're asking them what they expect and what they need. I always ask victims what are their desired outcomes. They may not be achieved but it's really important to get that kind of framework when you're talking about survivor-centered restorative justice.

Travis Claybrooks, Founder and CEO, the Raphah Institute, Nashville, TN: Most people want this. They want an opportunity to have their voice, to be able to speak and say, "Here's what happened. Here's how this impacted me. Here's what making it right would look like for me." So just them having the opportunity to have that voice—we find that people do want to talk. Even with young people, they want to talk about what's going on with them.

Christina McMahan, Juvenile Department Director for Clackamas County (OR): In Clackamas County, we have adopted, as a county, restorative justice as a philosophical and practical approach to how we deal with justice-involved people. So in our department, when we are planning a new program or maintaining an existing program, we're always looking to see how we can improve the services that we're doing through a restorative justice lens.

Ramkanta Tiwari, Director, Nepal Forum for Restorative Justice: Something becomes restorative only when it is an opportunity for certain things, such as if it's an opportunity for healing for the victims, if it's an opportunity for empowerment for the victims, if it provides opportunity for accountability for the wrongdoers or the person who is responsible for the harm caused, if it creates some opportunities or restoration of the lost dignity…the lost trust and so on.

It also, sometimes, restores some relations between these parties, and then if it provides an opportunity to transform the cause of that harm or the crime that occurred. So if all these things, at least, are fulfilled, we become more restorative.

Steven Teske, Chief Judge, Juvenile Court of Clayton County (GA): Because restorative justice is about learning and feeling empathy when you have harmed somebody. You know, these kids, when they do something they oftentimes do it never thinking about the consequences of what they're doing and how it’s harming other people and this is a great opportunity to build inside of them this understanding of consequences.

Sharletta Evans, Founder and CEO, Victim and Offender Mitigation Initiative, Inc., and the 5280 Survivors and 5280 Survivors Network, Inc.: The impact that we're having is pretty much educating and informing victim families concerning restorative justice and how to share their story. So, we provide training for victim families as we go into the Department of Corrections and do victim impact panels, and that in turn reduces the recidivism rate once an offender understands the impact they've had in victimizing on whatever level.

Laura Corbett Wilt, Chief Assistant State’s Attorney and Chief of the Juvenile Division, Frederick County (MD): If we want to work to better our communities, then we have to repair relationships. If our victims want that, if our offenders who are charged are interested in making things whole, our system right now doesn't give them the opportunity to do that. That is why I think a prosecutor, when they have their community's best interest at heart, really should look into restorative practices and put them in place from the time of the offense happens all the way through sentencing, if it has to get that far.