Restorative justice is based on the philosophy that although an act may be evil, the person who committed the act is not necessarily evil, so it can be healing if the offender meets race-to-face with the victim to take responsibility for his or her crimes.
UC Berkeley’s Restorative Justice Center Coordinator Julie Bradford Shackley spoke about the roots of the practice today at the Last Friday Ladies Lunch I host every month at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. She said having victims and offenders “make peace” with each other is an old tradition, one that’s been practiced in Uganda and East Timor to reconcile hostilities between warring peoples.
At UC Berkeley’s RJ Center, students are trained to prepare victims and offenders for a face-to-face, where they can ask each other questions and come to some sort of understanding about the offensive action. What motivated someone to commit the act? Why did they pick on a certain victim? How has the victim’s life changed as a result of the act?
I’d love to see this process applied to corporate criminals, such as Bernie Madoff or the CEO of Volkswagen. Imagine having all the victims of Madoff’s pyramid scheme tell him, face to face, how the loss of their money has affected their lives. Every day of his life sentence, he’d have to face another slew of people whose life savings he spent to build up his own cash stash.
What if all the car owners who bought a VW diesel because it was supposed to be less polluting could ask the VW chief and his fleet of captains why violated their trust and whether they really cared about the environment?
I suppose the end result would be empathy: by the victim and by the offender for the position each was placed in. The victim might be able to understand the pressure Madoff was under that made him build ever-larger pyramids to pay off his investors. Or why VW leaders felt they needed to cover up their real emissions data to meet U.S. EPA requirements.
This assumes, of course, that sociopaths and psychopaths, are just a figment of the psychiatric imagination. Otherwise, if folks such as Madoff or corporations such as VW without empathy really exist, restorative justice is just a one-way process.