“Who is without fault, cast the first stone”(John8:7) rebukes those who have a surfeit of righteousness to back off and comforts those who recognize how their faults and mistakes have caused pain and suffering.

If fault is caused by simple personal insult, reparation is relatively simple, but criminal behavior presents a larger problem for forgiveness.  Might forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, be possible as an additional strategy to punishment?

Justice that restores emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior.  Restitution and restoration is best accomplished through co-operative processes that include victim, offender, the court system and mediators.

Exploring restoration changes the emphasis from gaining cold comfort out of how much punishment is inflicted to measuring justice by how much harm is repaired or prevented: a more satisfactory solution all round.

In the United States more than 300 mediation programs[1] work toward restorative justice.  In Sioux Falls an organization called “Restore”(formerly VORP) works by providing mediation and other alternatives in an overloaded, unsustainable criminal justice system.

South Dakota has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, but its incarceration rate is twice as high as Massachusetts.  South Dakota incarcerates juveniles at a rate more than five times higher than Mississippi.  As of September 2009 19% of South Dakota State prison inmates were serving time for drug offenses, nearly 2/3 of those for “possession” of a controlled substance.  Another 40% were serving time for nonviolent crimes other than drug offenses.  In the United States one in every hundred adults is in prison and one in 45 on probation or parole.  In 2007 corrections spending was the fastest-growing major component of state budgets.[2]

When corrections’ spending is the fastest-growing major component of state budgets, restorative justice seems like an idea whose time has come round again. It is time for citizens of good will to pause before “casting stones.”  Let us step into the arena and look for alternatives to punishment that are cost effective, restorative, and in keeping with the gospel value of forgiveness.

This article first appeared in “From the Pulpit” January 16, 2010 as featured in the Argus Leader.  The Rev. Peter Holland supervises Clinical Pastoral Education at Avera Health and is a board member for Restore.

[1] National Survey Office of Victims of Crime(OVC),U.S. Dept. of Justice Programs, Washington DC, April2000

[2] Smith, C.  (2009, March 9).  Budget savings from reducing incarceration. Retrieved from http://www.progressivestates.org/node/22775


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