Restorative Justice is based on the Socratic/Platonic philosophy of shifting the focus from appearances to essences, from visible forms to invisible ideas and values. Restorative Justice returns to the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you would have others do unto you, of each of us doing what’s ours to do. Restorative Justice rejects the Paradigms of externally controlled societies, rejects the retributive model of justice, and rejects the reward-punishment model of societies. Restorative Justice is a paradigm that has been and is still practiced by many Native peoples, and emphasizes the redress of injustice by means of understanding, compassion, and mutual resolution.
Denise Breton and Stephen Lehman, in their book, The Mystic Heart of Justice , describe a system of social justice which offers a holistic framework which integrates individual morality, interaction with family and society, and issues of crime and punishment. At issue is treating justice “as a matter of spirit rather than a matter of law.”
Much of our justice system derives from the feudal model, whereby hierarchies of power defined justice. Essentially, “Dem wid de Gold, made de rules.” This included the definition of justice. Politically, the feudal system of justice ended with the Magna Carta, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution for the United States of America, and the Bill of Rights. Well, maybe.
If one were to believe the Dilbert cartoons, one would have to suspect that the feudal system of justice is alive and well in corporations and business. Or ask anyone who works for the Corporate State! Unfortunately, the feudal system of justice has a serious flaw in that it devalues the very people who hold the key to its life and regeneration. You cannot continuously dismiss as inferior the people in the trenches who are making it all work!
A second model, still highly praised in unenlightened societies, is the reward-punishment model. This system provides rewards if you’re good, punishments if you’re not, and wholly ignores the question of justice. For example, is it right? Does it bring happiness and joy to those who practice it? Those who receive the bulk of the rewards may decide that it’s an adequate system, even if they know that receipt of rewards is a very poor indicator of value to the system. There’s simply no justice.
The threat of punishment is where the real problem lies. The horrific lack of equality in determining who gets what, and who deserves it, along with the fear of punishment, envy of rewards, and certainty as to the injustice of both, makes for a non-viable system. With the energy spent on calculating how to increase rewards, diminish punishments, and deal with the emotions of guilt, shame, status, and anxiety; there is precious little left with which to think in terms of ethics, morality, and what is just and proper.
Punishment is a truly dismal failure as a motivator. In a New York Times survey, it was noted that capital punishment as a deterrent failed to make the cut. Ten of the 12 States without capital punishment had homicide rates below the national average, while half the states with the death penalty had homicide rates above the average. Over a twenty year time span, the homicide rates in States with the death penalty were 48 to 101 percent higher than in States without the death penalty.
In New York State, another survey noted that for every 100 homicides, there was only 20 indictments for murder, and only 15 of the 20 resulted in a conviction. This suggests that some 80 to 85 murderers got away with murder. Apparently, homicide is alive and well in the State of New York (pardon the anti-pun).
Restorative Justice takes a different tack. It aims to understand what has happened, and thereby derive a basis for change. It brings together both victim and perpetrator, allows the perpetrator to see the damage he or she has caused, and allows the victim to grasp what might have motivated the perpetrator. The idea is to include everyone who is involved in the relationships that impacted the crime. Compassion and understanding are allowed, as well as demonstrations of the various cause and effect scenarios.
Justice is not purely a law or court concept. As Denise Breton and Stephen Lehman point out , “judiciogenic misery goes everywhere.” Our paradigm involves authorities who have power over us, and who we’re led to believe always act fairly on our behalf.
But in reality, the ones who allocate the rewards and punishments simply don’t behave in a just manner on a regular basis. Even with the best of intentions, judges, parents, teachers, and every other imaginable authority frequently fail to treat others fairly. And reality being what it is, sometimes even the intentions fail in the pursuit of justice.
For anyone interested in pursuing the broader subject of Restorative Justice in all aspects of our lives, Breton and Lehman’s book can not be recommended too highly. It is simply not possible to encapsulate their efforts in this short treatise. Suffice it to say that page 80 of the book does an admirable job.
In answering the question, “How can we evolve a true, enlightened philosophy of justice?” Breton and Lehman’s answer is fourfold:
“Wisdom: seeking the big picture, the aim and purpose of justice.
“Courage, integrity: following through with personal and social change.
“Moderation, love and compassion: adapting change to where we are.
“Justice: a way of life that we create from who we are and that evolves with us.”
Breton and Lehman add the idea of “Looking up”, i.e. “Exploring how we’re connected to all that is and how this sheds light on our nature.” Fundamentally (with an emphasis on the “fun” as well as the “mental”), this is what this extended website is all about. And why The Mystic Heart of Justice, Restoring Wholeness in a Broken World is so significant.
For in the process of “Looking up”, four aspects are considered:
“Wholeness: all things are interrelated, connected, which means every one has a value, no one can be left out, and every experience tells us something about the whole system.
“Change: all of creation is in a state of constant change, which means change is our nature, and justice must help us change both ourselves and societies.
“Change occurs in Cycles, though it is hard to see the meaning of them clearly. This means we need justice to adapt to our cycles and help us move from where we are to the next step.
“The seen and the unseen are two aspects of one reality and must be honored and kept in balance. Justice, itself unseen, protects the seen.
“All of this comes together in the spiritual law: What blesses one blesses all.”
A second treatise on this subject is “Taking Down the Walls” -- a more down to earth, practical guide, dealing with the current state of affairs. It was even included on the US Department of Justice’s website at one time. The fact that it is no longer there, is another matter for reflection... and/or Acting.
 Denise Breton and Stephen Lehman, The Mystic Heart of Justice, Chrysalis Books, West Chester, Pennslyvania, 2001.
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