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A Message from the Restorative Justice Program Director

A lot of people hear the term restorative justice and what immediately comes to mind is a philosophy that advocates coddling offenders and not holding them fully accountable for their actions. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Restorative justice distinguishes itself from a purely punitive system of justice in that it promotes being smart on crime rather than just tough on crime.

If the past fifty years of the U.S. criminal justice system have taught us nothing else, it's taught us that laws and policies that strictly focus on harshly punishing offenders with little to no thought to rehabilitating them don’t work. They don’t make our communities safer. Neither do they make sense economically.

With the advent of mass incarceration beginning in the 1970s, the U.S. prison population went from 357,292 in 1970 to a staggering 2,300,000 to date. The U.S. is home to only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. The U.S. imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world.

Does the high incarceration rate in the U.S. equate to a safer society? No. Research consistently shows that higher incarceration rates are not associated with lower violent crime rates. In fact, incarceration may increase crime in certain circumstances.

Purely tough on crime policies are not only ineffective in keeping Americans safe, they also are an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. Consider this: If only ten percent of drug-addicted offenders received drug rehabilitation instead of jail time, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion. It costs less to educate a juvenile in private school than to send that same juvenile to a youth detention center for the same period of time. The numbers don’t lie. Restorative justice measures are more cost efficient than purely punitive measures.

What I’ve shared is no new revelation. We know this. The powers that be have known this for a long while. So, if we know that a tough on crime approach is not the best approach to addressing crime in our society, why do we continue to follow this course of action? Good question . . . that we’ll address at another time. This is a newsletter, not a dissertation, so we’ll discuss this further in our next newsletter. Stay tuned!

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