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Justice Circles

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posted on Dec, 5 2006 @ 08:56 PM
I've just recently watched a video on Justice Circles. The video explored a few cases from the Yukon that resorted to this form of justice. It walked through the cases, the punishment, rehabilitation, and the story from each angle.

It was a very interesting documentary.

The story began with the story of a man who murdered another man. Instead of sentencing the man to prison, his punishment was to live with the family of the victims. He was to live in the home of the victim's parents and endure a day to day life in devastation he caused. This really caught my attention and had me thinking.

Was it better served in this manner? Rather than locking him up for life and spending tax dollars, the man was forced to work and contribute. Not to mention to the harsh reality he was faced with every day.

Rehabilitation over punishment. But was this actually rehabilitation? Or was this a different form of punishment? I think that is left for the individual to decide.

It interviewed a judge that was involved in these Justice Circle's, and he only allowed one strike. They discussed a case of a man who chose the Justice Circle to determine his sentence. He broke his probation and took advantage of the benefits that were given to him. As a result of this, he faced a very stiff punishment for his actions. The judge gave fair warning, and the man who was interviewed from prison, had no bad words of the judge. He took account for his actions and knew he was where he was on his own account and no one else.

Everyone is an equal in these circles. The judge, the guilty, etc., are all considered an equal. Everyone shows respect for one another and does not interrupt when the other is speaking.

The sentencing circle is a method of dealing with members of the community that have broken the law. A sentencing circle is conducted after the individual has been in the present western justice system and found guilty or if the accused has accepted guilt and is willing to assume their responsibility. This sentencing method encourages the offender and the community to accept responsibility and acknowledges the harm they have done to society and to victims.

A sentencing circle's aim is to shift the process of sentencing from punishment to rehabilitation and responsibility. It provides a new alternative for courts to incarceration. The sentencing circle proves an opportunity to start the healing process for both the offender and the victim. The offender is presented with the impact of their actions in front of respected community members, elders, peers, family, the victim and their family, stimulating an opportunity for real change.

These two paragraphs some up the process fairly well. There is much more information that can be found at the link, but I will refrain from copying any more. I do recommend members do take a moment to read through the information though. A lot is to be learned from the website.

So I ask if members agree with this? Is it nonsense or do they actually have something here?

If the guilty is truly remorseful, and willing to work hard to repay the damage that he/she has done, should we not be forgiving? Should we not focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Are we actually looking for justice to be served? Or does vengeance taste better?

Does everyone not benefit from this?

I believe these circles have been mainly restricted to First Nation reserves for an obvious reason. Their close knit communities are not looking to sweep their people away. Hiding their criminals in a jail cell is not going to improve society, truly holding the guilty accountable and allowing them the opportunity to contribute back to society is the path.

I do not believe this would work in every community. But I do think it is an interesting read and worthy of a discussion.

[edit on 5-12-2006 by chissler]

posted on Dec, 6 2006 @ 01:04 AM
I think this might have some merit, at least on a case-by-case basis. If I were a judge, I'd have to be 100% convinced the person wouldn't just run away or something. There's no way this would work with all cases, but if the person actually shows sincere remorse and wants to repair what they've done, whatever that might be, then this is an alternative worth considering.

posted on Dec, 6 2006 @ 09:03 AM
And that is mandatory before they will ever think of allowing the guilty to resort to a Justice Circle to determine his/her sentence.

Here are a few requirements:

* willing to participate and accept responsibility for his/her actions;
* willing to face his/her victims and make whatever amends may be necessary;
* willing to participate in traditional or Christian ceremonies to initiate the healing process;
* willing to spend time with an Elder and participate in any preparations the Elder recommends at his/her home reserve or his/her choice; and
* willing to make whatever legal amends necessary to the victim and do whatever is necessary to the victim to reconcile the negative relationship created between themselves, the victim and the community as a result of the offense.

Justice Circles

I do agree, they may have something here. It would only work on a case by case scheme, as not everyone deserves this leniency. Some people who commit horrendous crimes, can be a victim as well. They quickly accept responsibility and only wish they could contribute something back. Yet our vengeful ways pushes them under the rug and locks them in a cell, which leaves us with this false hope that this is actually justice.

Yes, putting individuals in a jail cell for an extended period of time, can be a form of justice. But as anything else, there are the exceptions to the rule. And I believe these exceptions would fit nicely in the Justice Circles.

This link below explains some of the cases that were covered in the video that I had watched. It also offers some other information that is interesting.


Circles are found in the Native American cultures of the United States and Canada, and are used there for many purposes. Their adaptation to the criminal justice system developed in the 1980s as First Nations peoples of the Yukon and local justice officials attempted to build closer ties between the community and the formal justice system. In 1991, Judge Barry Stuart of the Yukon Territorial Court introduced the sentencing circle as a means of sharing the justice process with the community (Bazemore and Umbreit 1999:6; Crnkovich 1995:3; Coates et. al. 2000:4).

One of the best-known uses of the sentencing circle is the Hollow Water First Nations Community Holistic Healing Circle. Community members used circles to deal with the high level of alcoholism in Hollow Water. In the safety of those circles, many began to disclose experiences with sexual abuse. This led to development of healing circles as a way of dealing with the harm created by the offender, of healing the victim and of restoring the community

This is of great interest to me, because I am studying in the field of Youth Work. I plan to run government facilities to house youth with behaviour problems and hopefully turn their lives around before they are sent to federal prisons. Coming up in February I am going to be employed at a Restorative Justice program in my community. Justice Circles are discussed and deployed in their day to day business, so I plan to have some first hand experience with these circles.

We are going to be less of a court and jury and more of a counselor and friend.

Back to the Circles themselves, few studies have actually been done on them. Those that have been done, have shown positive feedback. They are commonly found in small, close knit communities where the guilty has strong ties. So the ability to contribute is obviously going to benefit all involved.

One aspect of the Circle that relates to the victims, is the ability to confront the guilty face to face. They are involved in the process and are given ample opportunity to express their pain that was caused by the guilty.

DD, Thank you for your post.

posted on Dec, 6 2006 @ 12:22 PM
I like the idea of justice circles and I think they are an good alternative. Obviously they can't be used for every case, but the First Nations in BC have been doing this for several years now and it seems to work for them.

I'm sure your work at a Restorative Justice program will be an amazing experience.

There is an good resource at BC Legal Services Society where you can watch some instances of BC First Nations justice circles in action.

posted on Feb, 7 2007 @ 07:32 PM
On the 26th of this month, I will be accepting an eight week position with the John Howard Society. Restorative Justice is something that I am beginning to truly believe in. The flaws in our current judicial process are becoming more obvious by the day, and it makes you question our current state.

If I commit a crime, let us say assault, who is truly hurt? Who is the true victim? Is society the true victim? I think society is effected by the ordeal, but the fact of the matter is, there is one victim. Yet, this one and only victim, has no rights in the proceedings. The needs and restitution of the victim are the least of anyones concerns. When it comes to Restorative Justice, the needs of the victim are addressed. They are permitted the opportunity to face their culprit and understand what may of lead to their dismay. Most victims of crime feel that they were "singled out" for a reason, but the truth most times is that it was by chance. Wrong place, wrong time sums up the majority of crimes.

The biggest flaw I hear of the program is that it lets young offenders off easy. I think before people begin to pass this judgment, they need to take a second look at the process. Having to sit down and listen to an impact statement from the victim, or actually hear the pain in their voice, that is far worse than any amount of community service or short jail sentence. Restorative Justice does come with a level of extrajudicial measures, such as community service, but it comes with so much more. The rights of the victims are not ignored and are almost stressed. And rightfully so, in my opinion.

I'm looking forward to my opportunity with the organization, and I'll be sure to share some experiences with anyone who cares to listen.

[edit on 7-2-2007 by chissler]

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 05:57 PM
I'd love to hear about your experiences working with the John Howard Society.

The city I grew up in had a Howard House. I've always thought that was a great program because people who have been in jail need to have some kind of support structure for them when they get out. You can't expect someone to get out of jail after an extended period of time and be able to find work and integrate with the community without some kind of assistance. There were plenty of people that didn't like having the Howard House in town, but as far as I know there were very few incidents that occurred with the people living there.

What kind of work will you be doing with them?

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 06:31 PM

Originally posted by Duzey
What kind of work will you be doing with them?

I've touched base with the director on a few occasions to get an idea of what I would be doing, and I have to say that it seems I am going to be tossed in head first. I wouldn't want it any other way. In the beginning I think it will be creating different documents and pamphlets. But my work load will hinge on the clients they have coming and going. I will be working face to face with the clients that come through the door and sit in on different circles where victims have the opportunity to face those convicted of crimes against them. That should be quite the experience.

Also, I will be attending different events, seminars, and public schools to give speeches on the program and the message it is attempting to spread. The director of this local branch is extremely busy and has to turn down more appearances than she can accept. It is a small non-profit organization that employs three individuals. I am hoping that with my presence, we would be able to accept more public appearances. I am fairly comfortable with talking in front of a crowd, so with the appropriate experience, I would hope that I could take on a few local schools and "spread the word".

I familiarized myself with the organization before accepting their position, so I have a lot of knowledge of what they do, I just lack the experience.

So being able to speak to the public, representing this organization, is something I am really looking forward to. As well as sitting in on different circles, listening to impact statements from victims. I am interested to see what kind of "impact" these statements actually have on those who are guilty.

One thing that was slightly disappointing, but completely logical given the situation, was that they accepted clients who were not prepared to accept responsibility for their actions. Given the fact it is a relatively small community, they do not have the luxury of filtering the clients that come through the door. Accepting guilt is something they prefer, but a referral does not hinge on it.

In a lot of people's eyes, Restorative Justice is a weak approach. It lets the guilty off easy and provides no restitution. That to me is an ignorant response from an individual who did not take the moment to read the true intent of the organization. I'm really looking forward to lending a helping hand with this program, that is supporting a worth while cause. Those that are involved in it are honestly some of the most remarkable people I've ever come into contact with.

Confidentiality binds me from talking too much of anything in specifics. They take it very seriously. But speaking in general terms of my own experience without referring to specifics of individual clients is something that I am permitted to do.

...Anxiously waiting for my first day.

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 06:52 PM
I can respect the need for confidentiality.

I don't think restorative justice is 'weak' at all. Speaking strictly for myself, if I were to commit a crime, the last person I would want to deal with is the person I wronged. The guilt would be overwhelming and that would truly bring home the consequences of my actions. This wouldn't apply to a sociopath/psychopath, but they probably wouldn't be given the opportunity to go through a restorative justice program in the first place.

It would be great if your presence there allows them to do more education on the program.

[edit on 14-2-2007 by Duzey]

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 07:03 PM

Originally posted by Duzey
This wouldn't apply to a sociopath/psychopath, but they probably wouldn't be given the opportunity to go through a restorative justice program in the first place.


I think the biggest problem with the local branch is the little attention it garners. Very few people actually know about it, and they struggle with the police force for referrals. When I was accepted for my position, I had asked if the director would come and speak to my class. When she had finished her speech, (almost 3 hours later) most of the class was attempting to sign up for a placement next year. So I think that is a good indicator that the premise itself is a good one, it is just having your voice heard.

As I believe I have said in the opening post, a lot of this was started on a theory of a native man who had murdered another individual in their community. It was a very small community who wanted to deal with the problem "in house". Rather than sweeping the man under the rug and sending him off to some prison, they sentenced him to live with the family of the victim. Obviously the victims were willing to participate, and the guilty was more than willing to "attempt" to compensate for the pain and suffering he caused this family. Can you imagine that? The second someone labels the Restorative Justice movement as weak, I like to share this story.

If you were guilty of murder, would you rather go to prison or live with the family of the man or woman you killed? Suddenly prison doesn't seem too bad after all.

This program can only work if everyone involved is willing to actively participate.

Duze, Thank you for your posts. I really appreciate it. After my first day or two with the organization, you will be the first I share my experiences with.

Again, Thank You!

posted on Mar, 2 2007 @ 09:11 AM
Well I finished my first week with the local Restorative Justice organization, and I can honestly say I am blown away on a level that I could not even fathom before hand. What these people do, for the little wages they do receive, is beyond recognition. The countless hours of overtime for their own organization, this week alone I've counted four different non-profit organizations that they volunteer for, and that is on top of the work they are expected of on a daily basis. My experience thus far has been great. I have bonded with the employees amazingly and am doing my best to contribute. I've heard nothing but good things so far, so I hope things continue on this track.

One organization that they are trying to get up off the ground is a non-profit organization to benefit homeless teenagers. Their target group is 16-19 homeless individuals, who basically are a victim of their own environment. It is not a shelter they are providing, merely a 72 hour safe house to get them off of the street, a clean shirt, and hopefully a job interview. There are some very smart people involved with this, and they really have their hearts, and minds, in the right place. I've sat in on some meetings this week for this project, and some others pertaining to other organizations, and the amount of work that these people are putting forth truly inspires me.

My faith in the human race has been restored.

It is difficult though seeing young people having to face some of the ordeals they do. Whether they are on conflict with the law or living on the streets, you really wish you could give them the shirt off your back. But you need to think with your head rather than your heart sometimes. Some of these "kind souls" could be murderers, rapists, etc., so we always need to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

It is nice though, to know that you have found your calling in life. Working with youth that are truly in need of some guidance, structure, and moral support is something that is certainly worth waking up for in the morning.

One week in and you could not beat the smile off of my face.

[edit on 2-3-2007 by chissler]

posted on Mar, 26 2007 @ 12:39 AM
Have you read "The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison" by Jeffrey Rieman? It provides an interesting outlook on the dichotomy between white collar and blue collar crime.

Ten Bandits and what they got:
Jack L Clark, President and chairman of Four Seasons Nursing Centers, Clark finagled financial reports and earnings projections to inflate his stock artificially. Shareholders lost $200 million dollars. Sentence: One year in prison.

John Peter Galantis, As portfolio manager of two mutual funds, Galanis bilked investors of nearly $10 million. Sentence: Six months in prison and fiver years probation.

Virgil A McGowen, As manager of the Bank of America branch in San Francisco, McGowen siphoned off $591, 921 in clandestine loans to friends. Almost none was recovered. Sentence: Six months in prison, five years probation, and a $3,600 fine.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. The war on drugs, or a war on crime, has never addressed white collar crime, but is constantly promulgated as street problem.

How Americans are Murdered:
Firearms: 11, 381
Knife or other cutting instrument: 3,957
Other weapon: club, arson, poison, strangulation etc.: 2,609
Persona Weapon: hands, fists etc.: 1,310
Total: 19,257

There are two nations with two different sets of laws for each, the rich and the poor. Note how the murder statistics rise, when you factor in white collar crime. (Date of Publication: 1990)

How Americans Are Really Murdered:
Occupational hazard and disease: 61,700
Inadequate Emergency Medical Care: 20,000
Knife or other cutting instrument, including scalpel: 15, 957
Firearms: 11, 381
Other weapons: club, poison, hypodermic, prescription drug: 4,609
Personal weapon, hands, fists, etc.: 1,310.
Total 114,957

I'm a firm believer in justice circles, I think they achieve more emotional rehabilitative goals than languishing in a cell can. Social justice is even more important towards eliminating crime. I think justice circles are more concerned with justice and less concerned with perpetuating a class system.
The number of psychopaths in any given culture, is probably best reflected by those who oppress, than by the unfortunates caught in a vicious cycle of poverty.

posted on Mar, 26 2007 @ 02:11 PM

Originally posted by clearwater
I think justice circles are more concerned with justice and less concerned with perpetuating a class system. The number of psychopaths in any given culture, is probably best reflected by those who oppress, than by the unfortunates caught in a vicious cycle of poverty.

I think you understand the process quite well. And if I may, very well put! I've not read that particular book, but I will definitely put it on my list. Quite a few I need to tackle first, but I'll certainly try to get to it eventually.

I have extensive debates with co-workers on the "system" and the "Justice Circle" approach daily and each day I'm reinforced with the flaws in our current system. It certainly has it's perks, but there are too many vitals that go unnoticed. I have a problem with the lack of empathy and respect given to the victim. The state is not the victim! A victim impact statement is not enough, in my opinion.

posted on Mar, 27 2007 @ 07:49 PM
So true, often the amount of empathy given a victim is dependent on their economic status. The human bias in the law is a double edged sword. It provides some flexibility, and imposes bias. Law is meant to be objective but there is no way to avoid the subjective perspective of it's officials.

The courts may have failed, but the cops kicked the crap out of him.

posted on Apr, 2 2007 @ 10:10 PM
I found this to be a fascinating topic about the First Nations people and their tribal justice system.
The first and foremost quote of the OP brings the main body of this topic to light:
“Is it nonsense or do they actually have something here?”
Considering that the cultures of the First Nations of Canada are so unique yet share similar traits in their religion as well as basic definitions of their hierarchy it’s no surprise that when the tribal elders of a band come together and chose to pose judgement against one of their own tribe.
I think they do have something here and it’s because of the First Nations attitude and teaches of right and wrong, the Great Spirit and how to live a good life. If you have ever had a chance to listen to a First Nations story teller you will be mesmerized about their stories and how each one has a deep seeded and very powerful meaning.
Do I believe that this sort of punishment would work in every case? No I do not.
Do I believe that each case of Elder tribal justice is unique and should be used with care? Without question
I think there has to be a deeply felt emotion of remorse for the crimes that were committed and that the person who has been brought for trail must still be salvageable within the confines of the “society” with in which they live.

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