The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law December 2012
ADR @ Moritz

SPEAK Hosts Panel on Restorative Justice

On November 19, 2012, SPEAK, a Moritz student organization focusing on maximizing the benefits of diversity, treated the local legal community to a panel on restorative justice. The panel, organized by Samil Pullen (’13), included five panelists whose viewpoints on restorative justice range from legal to grassroots: Mrs. Subha Lembach, Project Coordinator for the Juvenile Justice Community Planning Initiative; Mrs. Beverly Orazen, member of B.R.E.A.D.’s Crime and Violence Steering Committee; Ms. Beth Oprisch, Coordinator of the Ohio Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative; Ms. Tei Street, Director of The Ohio State University’s Outreach and Engagement Educational Programs; and Robert Tobias, Director of the Prosecution Resources Unit at the Columbus City Attorney’s Office. All five shared their thoughts about the benefits of restorative justice to the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.

Restorative justice focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or simply punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions to repair the harm they have caused. All of the panelists agreed that the current criminal justice system does not sufficiently meet the needs of the parties involved in a crime, especially the victim. The current system focuses on the abstract law that a person has violated, and does little to hold the offender accountable to the victim.

Mrs. Lembach pointed out that the key to healing for the victim and the involved community is the discussion that occurs among the victim, the offender, and the involved community because that process empowers the victim and the involved community. Ms. Street pointed out that the restorative justice model also serves as a powerful tool in discovering the underlying issues of the offender, which is essential in preventing recidivism. Ms. Street shared her experience as a young girl who was constantly in trouble, but was given a second chance through restorative justice, and has used that chance to become a successful national motivational speaker who speaks on behalf of youth.

The social benefit of restorative justice was again highlighted by Mrs. Orazen, who shared a story about two young girls who were adjudicated for having a fist fight. She talked about how wasteful the entire process was, not just because the girls now had a criminal record for normal adolescent behavior, but because so much money was being wasted on the police who arrested the girls, the attorneys involved, the magistrate, the clerk, etc. Mr. Tobias emphasized the economic benefit of restorative justice, but pointed out that in the City Attorney’s office, the restorative justice diversion program is a “one shot” deal. He said that while he now recognizes the benefit of rehabilitation, he does not want to allow offenders to abuse restorative justice.

Potential abuse of the system was not the only concern about restorative justice that was shared during the discussion. While the panelists generally agreed on the benefits of restorative justice, Ms. Oprisch noted that it is not always the right alternative. Ms. Oprisch said that sometimes harms just cannot be repaired, so restorative justice should never be a mandatory model in the criminal justice system. All of the panelists agreed.

The panelists also agreed that the benefits of restorative justice far outweigh the potential concerns. From empowering victims to serving as part of the solution for the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, restorative justice is a model with an abundance of social benefits. As one audience member pointed out, today’s society has shifted toward a purely retributivist approach, and restorative justice is a way for society to shift back to a sense of community.

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The Caucus, the newsletter published by the Moritz Program on Dispute Resolution, is designed to share ADR news with the Moritz community and beyond, as well as provide Moritz students with information regarding externship and employment opportunities. Questions regarding this publication should be directed to Erin Archerd, Langdon Fellow in Dispute Resolution.