A Vote for Dispute Resolution

  Julio Enriquez was arrested for trying to steal a car owned by Georgene Felicia. Since he was a juvenile, Julio got six months probation. But his story doesn't stop there. Through the mediation program of the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution, victim and offender came face to face to solve their problem. For Julio, the meeting provided an opportunity to take responsibility for his actions and to apologize for the harm he had done -- a practice mandated by Scripture. That meeting gave Georgene a chance to express her feelings, and how her life had been disrupted. In the end, Georgene decided against the restitution Julio offered to pay. Instead, she accepted his commitment to finish his High School Equivalency diploma, so that he would have hope and could stay out of crime and prison. Thanks to their reconciliation, Julio is now working to keep his life straight. This is just one example of a movement known as "restorative justice," a concept pioneered by Prison Fellowship. This movement defines crime as harm to human relationships -- not just breaking the law. And true justice means repairing the harm done by crime, restoring the community -- what the Jews called shalom, or true peace. Restorative justice is a profoundly biblical concept. In the traditional justice system, the victim's feelings are secondary to the government's right to seek retribution. The government, not the victim, determines the punishment and restitution. In most cases, the victim is left out of the process. At the same time, the offender is cut off from his or her family and community and stigmatized for life as an offender. But through programs like the one at the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution, victims and offenders are brought together to resolve the conflicts created by crime. Each side is given an opportunity to express their feelings. And in the end, they reach an agreement on how the damage should be repaired. In North America today, there are over 300 such programs in operation. One of them, called Sycamore Tree, has been used with great success at the InnerChange Prison in Texas operated by Prison Fellowship. I've seen hardened criminals reformed and reconciled with grieving victims; I've seen people come to Christ, and I've seen amazing joy and healing. Recently, these issues have taken on international importance as the United Nations is considering an international concord on restorative justice principles. A few weeks ago, the Secretary General sent a request to heads of state, asking for suggestions on developing restorative justice programs worldwide. Now, there are times, in my opinion, when the UN has done all the wrong things, but here's a case where they're doing the right thing. Implementing restorative justice programs is a tremendous opportunity, and an idea you can share with your friends. It is a biblical concept. With his commitment to faith-based solutions, like our InnerChange Prison in Texas, President Bush is in a perfect position to advance the cause of restorative justice. He needs to make sure our government sends a positive response on restorative justice to the UN Secretary General before this month's deadline. It's an important step in restoring the peace of our communities, and bringing biblical justice to bear where it really counts.   For further reference: Van Ness, Daniel and Karen Heetderks Strong. Restoring Justice. Southington, CT: Anderson Publishing, 1997. And for the most comprehensive Restorative Justice website, visit:  


Chuck Colson


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