RE:QUESTA space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith
Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today
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The Christian view
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is an approach to criminal justice that brings together an offender and their victim in order to restore peace. The aim is to give all people involved - offender, victim, and community - the chance to play a part in repairing the harm done and find a positive way forward.
- The offender has an opportunity to consider the wrongness of their actions and apologise for the offence. This allows them to take responsibility for their actions; admitting they are wrong is the first step to becoming a better person.
- The victim has the chance to say how they feel, plus receive an apology. This can help them gain emotional closure, helping them to move on from the offence.
The Restorative Justice Council UK was established in 1997, and, alongside its work in the criminal justice system, it has worked in schools and the workplace across the UK. You can find out more about its work here.
Forgiveness and the restoration of peaceful relationships with people are of vital importance to Christians, therefore many fully support restorative justice. This because:
- Criminals can reform and become valuable members of their community, moving away from a criminal lifestyle.
- There are many passages in the Bible that teach about the importance of forgiving those who cause you harm. You can find them here.
- The Bible is clear that solving conflict is best done by reconciling with others before things get out of hand. One of the key biblical teachings that Christians look to for guidance is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial, if you call your brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ you will be brought before the Council, and if you call your brother a worthless fool, you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell. Leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God.
“If someone brings a lawsuit against you and takes you to court, settle the dispute while there is time before you get to court. Once you are there, you will be turned over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, and you will be put in jail. There you will stay, I tell you, until you pay the last penny of your fine." Matthew 5:21-26
Jesus gave clear teaching in this passage about how to deal with offenders. The first paragraph shows that, rather than judge a criminal, becoming angry, and calling them all kinds of names, Christians are to seek them out and 'make peace' with them. If they don't God will not accept anything from them. The second passage advises to sort out conflict in advance of any court case.
Jesus' teaching sounds very much like a description of restorative justice; no doubt he had the same purpose!
The Prison Fellowship and Restorative Justice
One example of a Christian organisation that is involved in promoting restorative justice is the Prison Fellowship. They run a programme called Sycamore Tree which is led by volunteers around the principles of restorative justice, with a focus on victim awareness. Taught in prisons across the UK, the course deals with the effects of crime on victims, offenders, and the wider community, before discussing what it would mean to take responsibility for personal actions.
Between April 2019 to March 2020, 137 Sycamore Tree courses were run in 48 prisons across England and Wales, allowing 2,438 learners to explore the impact of their crime. The course has been proven to stop some criminals from re-offending.