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Restorative Justice: Justice Which Heals
From the beginning, program development at CJI has centred on peacemaking and conflict resolution, and has been driven by theological and philosophical understandings of conflict in society which have come to be identified as "Restorative Justice." The mentoring influence of Dr. Howard Zehr on the thinking of this agency's founders has been profound. Long before the notion had become almost cliché, Howard was calling for a "paradigm shift" in criminal justice, a changing of the lenses through which justice is viewed. In his book on the subject, Changing Lenses: A New Focus on Crime and Justice (1990), Howard illustrates how justice viewed through different types of lenses presents vastly contrasting images:
Crime is a violation of the state, defined by lawbreaking and guilt. Justice determines blame and administers pain in a contest between the offender and the state directed by systematic rules.
Crime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates obligations to make things right. Justice involves the victim, the offender, and the community in a search for solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and reassurance.
Those who view crime from a Restorative Justice perspective see crime as conflict which creates a breach, a "rent" in the fabric of the community. Rather than the state and its laws at centre-stage, the focus remains on the disputants and on accountability, responsibility, negotiating fitting amends and, to the greatest possible degree, the repair of the harm. Since crime involves and affects—even erodes—the community, involving and empowering people to assist in the resolution of criminal conflicts that arise in their communities can reverse that trend, reducing the sense that the community is powerless to do anything about the levels of crime within it. Victim-offender mediation can dramatically change that dynamic.