For the last half-dozen years, a new approach is being promoted in San Quentin Prison to help break the cycle of crime and punishment that has controlled America’s courts and prisons.
Called Restorative Justice, it has been used in many countries, including South Africa, New Zealand and Canada. South Africa used it to help cure the divisiveness that separated and abused the black population for decades. It’s currently used in Minnesota and Pennsylvania prisons.
In the traditional model, punishment and retribution are meted out to offenders for the crimes they commit. The victims of those offenders often remain victims. If offenders are caught, they are prosecuted and sent to prison – a place that offers them little chance to repair the damage they caused. By removing the offender from society and tipping its hat to the victim, California believes justice has been served. But, something is missing in this simplified but all-too-true scenario.
The results include: a vast number of victims’ rights groups and extreme prison recidivism. Currently, approximately 70 percent of “low risk” offenders return to prison.
On May 7, 2011, members of San Quentin’s Restorative Justice Round Table attended a full day of intense instruction in conflict resolution training to become “Circle Keepers.” Circles are an alternate process of communication, based on traditional discussion through storytelling and healing practices of aboriginal peoples throughout the world. Circles are ancient and have been used as a way of healing harms, resolving conflict, communicating, grieving, even celebrating.
The training allowed each person to experience deeper insight and personal healing, thereby they were better prepared to assist others in their journey. By accepting responsibility for their actions, the inmates continued restoration in their lives. Through their restoration, the goal of helping others to restore themselves becomes possible. Through empathy and compassion, hearts were opened wide.
Each person shared openly in the inter-faith group made up of inmates and outside guests. The event included San Quentin’s Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Native American communities. Thirty-five attendees became Circle Keepers under the guidance of three volunteer trainers.
Restorative Justice has grown globally from a movement begun in the 1970s. It seeks to change traditional retributive, “punishment only” justice systems such as that in the United States, to one where both the victim’s and offender’s needs are actually addressed in an effort to break the cycle of crime and violence.
Supporters say Restorative Justice programs have reduced the number of adult and youth prisoners, and trimmed recidivism. Local cities including Oakland use the concept with youth to help foster empathy responsibility.
San Quentin’s Restorative Justice Round Table meets in the Catholic Chapel on Thursday at 6:20 p.m. The group also schedules semi-annual symposiums for all general population inmates and community members. Many of San Quentin’s programs including Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG) and Anger Management use Restorative Justice principles in their formats.
For more information, contact Krizman at 2N25.