Restoring Justice in Manhattan
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Gregory Paul, partnered with Thea Nietfeld, a restorative justice practitioner who works for the Salina Initiative for Restorative Justice (SIRJ) for an engagement incentive grant project; Community Engagement for Restorative Justice in Manhattan, KS. Together, they employ a method of restorative justice within the Manhattan community that is designed to change the way people view the justice system.
“Restorative justice is not so much about punishing the offender as it is about helping the victim and the offender to essentially heal, to learn and to move forward after what happened,” said Paul. “It’s about both the victim and the offender.”
This unique take on the justice system comes from what is called victim-offender conferences (VOC). “VOCs bring victims, offenders, and community members together in a facilitated meeting to dialogue about the offense, negotiate reparation (e.g., apology, restitution), and decide together if they wish to maintain a relationship with each other,” wrote Paul in his engagement incentive grant proposal.
Noting that the current judicial system employs the old proverb, “You do the crime, you do the time,” restorative justice takes a different approach. Material restitution, for example, would involve replacing stolen items in the case of a burglary. Emotional restoration allows victims to trust that the offender won’t hurt them again.
In addition to cost effectiveness, Paul also added restorative justice is more effective than traditional punishments at preventing recidivism. “With the offender, we want to help you take responsibility for what you’ve done and repair the harm for what you’ve caused,” said Paul. “Learn so… you don’t commit another crime again… so you’re able to turn your life around.”
While Paul said that VOCs are mainly concerned with low-level youth offenders, this method could work for a variety of conflicts. Long term, Paul said the goal is to “start a conversation about how we can use restorative practices in a more daily or consistent basis,” citing examples such as conflicts people may encounter in the workplace.
While there may be some faculty hesitation to dive into such a project, Paul encourages those who are interested to take the plunge.
“The best part of this is you get to work with people who bring different backgrounds, different perspectives, different experiences that can help you work through those concerns,” said Paul. “Working together you produce something that’s richer or more interesting than what you could’ve done alone.”