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Restorative justice can help mend a broken criminal justice system

Deacon Bill Scholl is the archdiocesan consultant for social justice. You can email him at: socialjustice@archkck.org.

by Deacon Bill Scholl

As the archdiocesan social justice consultant, I sometimes get calls that haunt me.

One such call came early in my career from a father calling about his incarcerated son. He shared the story of how his son was going to go to college, but couldn’t afford it.

His son liked concerts and got caught up in the music scene, which meant he got caught up smoking marijuana, which meant he started selling to support his lifestyle, which in turn caught him up in the criminal justice system when his supplier turned on him to get a lesser sentence.

As the lowest on the totem pole, he got the longest sentence: 15 years.

The father said to me, “You know, if we could have just gotten the state of Kansas to help us with $4,000 for my son to go to Washburn, it wouldn’t have to be spending $40,000 a year now to keep him in prison.”

I was reminded of that father and his son when I attended the “Harm, Healing, and Human Dignity: An All-Virtual Catholic Conference on Restorative Justice,” organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network, sponsored in part by our archdiocese.

We live in a culture that promotes the idea that bad people hurt good people and the solution is to lock up as many as possible.

However, the truth is rarely so cut and dried. The reality is that HURT PEOPLE hurt people, and until we as a society recommit to applying the wisdom of the Gospel to our criminal justice system, we will only continue to increase violence and the trauma that leads to violence.

This Gospel wisdom is called restorative justice, which has two goals: 1) to help victims and their families heal from the traumatic effects of crime; and 2) to break the cycle of crime by increasing public safety through helping offenders rehabilitate and then reintegrate into their communities.

This is an alternative to our current adversarial criminal justice system, which often re-traumatizes the victims, discourages the perpetrator from repentance and disregards the punishment’s impact upon the community.

Instead, restorative justice empowers victims, compels the offender to take responsibility and engages the community in the process of restoration.

As a Catholic, I encourage you to learn more about restorative justice. It won’t just change your perspective on public policy; it will equip you with tools to practice and master the art of forgiveness, both in the giving and the asking.

As a great place to start, read the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration” and then go online to: catholicsmobilizing.org to learn more.

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Deacon Bill Scholl

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