Monday, July 7, 2014

Turning the other cheek

I apologize for the brevity of this post but it's early Sunday evening and I'm sitting at my desk in an office building in which the air conditioner was turned off for the holiday. Even though I can hear the faint sounds of the air conditioner coming to life (since it will be only a few hours until the building is occupied again), it's still a sweltering sweat box in here and I don't feel like sitting in a pool of my own sweat.

I ran across a very interesting article on the NPR website this afternoon about Lorenn Walker, a lawyer in Hawaii who practices restorative justice. Ms. Walker was a high school dropout living in Hawaii with her five-year-old daughter when she was assaulted and left lying in an alleyway behind a hotel. As part of her recovery she saw a counselor who urged her to go to college.

She did and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She then decided she wanted to go to law school because, in her words, she was interested in justice. Okay, enough of the snarky remarks. Those of us who have been through the grind know just how naive one is to go to law school in pursuit of justice.

The interesting part, however, is that Ms. Walker found her way into restorative justice not only because she was the victim of a violent crime, but because she was interested in the people who committed crimes.
"My big break was a really traumatic experience," she says. "I think that no matter what happens to us, we can find some way that it strengthens us. It could have ruined me, but it didn't." -- Lorenn Walker
Too much of what happens at the courthouse is about retribution and punishment. And the fact of the matter is, as I have pointed out in much of my commentary on the death penalty, neither retribution nor punishment does anything to heal the wounds of a crime victim - whether they be the victim of a property crime or a violent crime.

On the docket sheet it's the State of Texas versus someone. The crime victim's name appears nowhere in the style of the case - nor should it. But we play this fiction that somehow prosecutors are fighting for justice for the victims of crime. That's far from what they do.

Sure, we've all had a prosecutor tell us that he or she will have to talk to the victim to see if the offer we've proposed is okay with them. And we've all had a prosecutor tell us (particularly in a domestic violence case) that they are prosecuting our clients for the state, not the alleged victim. You can't have it both ways and it's beyond cynical to claim otherwise.

At least the concept of restorative justice honestly takes the feelings of the victim into account when trying to work out a settlement. And, in some cases at least, restorative justice can actually bring about a true sense of closure to a case

No comments: