In March 2012, I posted a blog about “restorative justice” after reading a concise 65-page book entitled, “The Little Book of Restorative Justice” by Howard Zehr with Ali Gohar (Good Books 2002). In this tome, the author emphasizes that “restorative justice” is not about forgiveness or reconciliation nor is it mediation nor is it designed to reduce recidivism. It is neither an alternative to prison nor replaces our legal system. (Id. at pp 8-13).
Rather, it is a philosophy that emphasizes “needs and roles”, focusing on harms, obligations and “putting right” the wrong. It is “. . .based upon an old, common sense understanding of wrongdoing:”
- “Crime is a violation of people and of interpersonal relationships.”
- “Violations create obligations.”
- “The central obligation is to put right the wrongs.” (Id. at p. 19).
In short, it is about relationships. We are all interconnected so that a crime:
. . . is a wound in the community, a tear in the web of relationships. Crime represents damaged relationships. . . .[D]amaged relationships are both a cause and the effect of crime. (Id. at p. 20).
Thus, harm to one is harm to all. (Id.)
Because we are all interrelated, we each have mutual obligations and responsibilities to “put right” the wrong. “Putting right” involves not only the offender and the victim but the community as well. Restorative justice asks: who has been hurt? What are their needs? And whose obligations are these? (Id. at pp. 20-21).
Restorative justice is a process to involve to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible. (Id. at p. 37).
The guiding questions are simple:
- Who has been hurt?
- What are their needs?
- Whose obligation are these?
- Who has a stake in this situation?
- What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to put things right? (Id. at p. 38).
The key concepts are harm, needs, obligations, stakeholders, “putting right” and doing so while showing respect for all. (Id. at p. 40-41.)
I provide this background because a recent article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune(posted on September 19, 2016) discusses the successful use of restorative justice. In the article entitled “Mediation effort produces guilty plea in 2015 7th Ward Killing”, the reporter- Ken Daley- discusses how Cornell Augustine, pled guilty to manslaughter on the day his trial was to begin, thereby accepting both responsibility for his crime as well as a 30-year prison term.
The defendant, Cornell Augustine, was charged with second degree murder after shooting Gregory Journee five times during a scuffle that started in the bar in which the defendant was the bartender and ended outside. The scuffle started between Augustine and one other; when Journee attempted to break up the fight, Augustine broke free from Journee’s choke hold, pulled out a gun and shot him. Although Augustine fled the scene, he was arrested soon thereafter.
Defendant Augustine entered the guilty plea after he spent nearly two hours during the previous Friday in an emotional meeting with the victim’s family and state prosecutors. As is typical in such meetings:
Condemnations were aired. Regrets were expressed and accepted. Tears were shed. And by meeting’s end, all parties were ready to spend the weekend considering whether a 30-year sentence was fair in a plea deal that averted the uncertainty and cost of a trial. Augustine faced life imprisonment if convicted of murder, and 20-40 years if convicted of manslaughter, which both sides privately considered the case’s most likely outcome. (Id.)
Augustine’s attorney Kevin Boshea emphasized the ingredients necessary for a successful session:
“The fact they believed my client truly had remorse made this mediation idea possible,” Boshea said. “We sat down. My client’s family got to feel their pain and their family got to feel our pain. And my client was very contrite and remorseful for what had taken place. We talked at length and, at some point, said, ‘Let’s work it out.’ And from our standpoint, I think it was the best result possible. (Id.)
And the district attorney- Leon Cannizzaro noted the important take-away:
‘You can’t expect everyone to walk away from something like this happy’, Cannizzaro said, ‘because a life was lost and another person has to give up his youth because of his criminal act. But it spared everyone the expense, the anguish, the uncertainty of the trials and appeals. And I think, to that extent it was a good result….’ (Id.)
As of September 17, 2016, there has been 119 murders in New Orleans this year. Not surprisingly, it has one of the highest murder rates in the country. According to the news article, this is the first time restorative justice has been used in a murder case in Orleans Parish. Hopefully, it will not be the last.
…. Just something to think about.