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The Cost of Restorative Justice

True story. A few years back my dishwasher started overflowing whenever I used it. Shortly after I’d start a load of pots and pans, there would be water all over my kitchen floor! Now, normally, my husband, Rick, would handle an issue like this, but I ended up having to deal with the situation myself because Rick was away on a TDY, deployment or something. I don’t quite remember where he was. But what I do remember is that when I called the dishwasher repairman, he told me it would cost $60 just for him to pull his truck into our driveway! That didn’t even count the costs of whatever repairs he’d ultimately have to make. Fine. After agreeing to his extortion—I mean—service charge, the repairman appeared at my front door.

I promise you I am not exaggerating. The dishwasher repairman knelt in front of my dishwasher for every bit of fifteen seconds—yes, seconds—pulled some little gizmo out of the dishwasher, tapped the contents of the gizmo into the kitchen sink, replaced the gizmo in the dishwasher, stood up, and handed me a bill! Just like that! Flabbergasted, I stood there trying to find a dignified way to say, “Dude! What just happened here?!?!” His explanation? “There’s a drain in the bottom of your dishwasher that catches food debris. You have to dump it every now and then or else the drain will get clogged. And that bit of knowledge, little lady, just costs you the price of a new set of rims for my repair truck! Booyah!!!” Now, of course, the dishwasher repairman didn’t say that last part, but that’s what I heard as he gleefully waltzed out the front door with my hefty check in hand.

Did I learn something from that experience? You bet I did! First and foremost, I learned that I most definitely had gone into the wrong career field. I learned that repair people get paid! If my aim was to make a lot of money, maybe I needed to learn how to pull little gizmos out of dishwashers and scrap this notion of becoming a lawyer. Then I learned that it often costs to fix things right.

Sometime after the dishwasher incident, our upstairs air conditioner started acting wonky. Again, Rick and I had to call a repairman. Before telling us how much it would cost to address the problem with our air conditioner, the repairman asked us, “Do you want to fix the problem, or do you just want to patch it up for now?” The repairman explained that he could do just enough to probably get us through the summer, or he could do what really needed to be done which was to replace our air conditioning unit which had run the course of its life expectancy. Patching the problem, he told us, would cost less for now, but wouldn’t resolve the problem that eventually had to be addressed. He also explained that the money we used to patch the problem would ultimately be a waste and could be put to better use in resolving the problem. Rick and I took his advice and opted to fix the problem by getting a new air conditioning unit. Was it expensive? You bet it was! But, just as the repairman had said, the problem was resolved, and we didn’t have to deal with it anymore.

The most marked difference between restorative justice and our conventional criminal justice system is its focus. The focus of our current criminal justice system is punishment. Our courts primarily ask, “What happened and what punishment do we inflict?” Yes, our criminal justice system makes some efforts to rehabilitate offenders, but those efforts are nominal in comparison to the effort put into punishing offenders.

While restorative justice also seeks to hold offenders accountable for their actions, the primary focus of restorative justice is on preventing crime before it occurs and addressing crime in such a way that it doesn’t reoccur.

To do that, the purveyors of restorative justice must examine and address the causes of crime. For restorative justice to truly be restorative or just, it has to earnestly deal with the causes of crimes and recidivism which include poverty, racial inequity, economic disparities, failing school systems, family breakdown, etc. Admittedly, this takes considerably more effort and resources than the lock-em-up approach, but here’s the thing—we have two options. We can truly fix our current criminal justice system, or we can simply patch it up. The latter might be quicker and easier, but it won’t really resolve the problem and could, ultimately, be a lot more expensive. The choice is ours.

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