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Thought for the day on Restorative Justice -Vishvapani (30th October 2009)

Page history last edited by Paul Crosland 12 years, 8 months ago

Thought for the Day, 30 October 2009


One night, as I walked from the bus stop to my house, three young men backed me against a wall and took my wallet. One of them was wearing a cartoon mask, and for a surreal instant I had the sensation that I was being mugged by Mickey Mouse. My attackers seemed more excited than violent, but I had the impression that they'd find it even more exciting if I put up a fight and they got to beat me up. I gave them the wallet and walked away, unhurt and untraumatised. But that incident was a small glimpse into the experience of victims of crime: the unsettling sense of being treated as an object, not a human being, and the residual feeling that the world might anytime turn hostile.

The attraction for me of the restorative justice movement is that it humanises the relationship between offenders and their victims by bringing them together. So I was pleased to hear the Prison Reform Trust proposing this week that the method be introduced across the UK following its success in Northern Ireland. Since 2003 many young offenders have met their victims to discuss their crime and its repercussions, and agree an action plan. That's brought much lower rates of reoffending and left victims feeling more satisfied.

Offenders often say it's much harder to meet a victim and witness firsthand the impact of their actions than to tough it out in jail. To use an old-fashioned term, such an encounter can lead an offender to offer not just an apology but a confession. That word has different connotations for Buddhists than for many Christians, because in Buddhism there's no reference to a God who makes laws and offers judgment. Buddhist ethics means developing a moral sense by seeing with growing clarity that actions have consequences for oneself and others. Violent or selfish actions cut one off from other people, and that brings suffering. Healing comes by acknowledging what one has done, restoring the connection and moving on. That's the role of confession, and when communication is restored it's much easier for a victim to let go of their grievance and forgive. And that's healing as well.

Restorative justice takes us beyond sterile discussions of whether criminals are inherently bad and require punishment, or essentially good people who deserve another chance. It acknowledges that people can change, but also that the change may require a painful and far- reaching shift in their outlook on life. That's a moral lesson and there's no more powerful way to learn it than through direct, honest communication."


NB I wrote to Vishvapani as follows:

""As a trustee of the Restorative Justice Consortium and RJ practitioner/campaigner all of this century (sadly no longer working in this capacity in HMP Bristol or so frequently invited to Downing Street as I was!), I applaud your thought for the day as serving the cause of RJ better than others (including Cherie Booth) who have attempted at greater length to do so on Radio 4 and not managed to go to where you went. I applaud your going beyond 'right' and 'wrong' to meaningful communication and action -that is the key that releases us. If you speak again on this topic, or on healing social divides, I'd love to talk to you first (with colleagues) about Dominic Barter's Restorative Circles work in Brazil - http://twitter.com/RestoraCircles  -his is the best restorative practice of which I know in the world." Paul Crosland


NB Transcript of Thought for the Day -available alongside audio files of all Vishvapani's thoughts for the day: http://www.bbc.co.uk/apps/ifl/religion/tftd/queryengine?attrib_1=author&oper_1=eq&val_1_1=Vishvapani+&submit=Search+author


Original news stories related to Prison Reform Trust and Northern Ireland Youth RJ here and  here


NB When I last bumped into Vishvapani and asked him for a quick thought for the day, he said this in a deep (feigned Oriental?) voice:

"Body like mountain, mind like sky, be Buddha!"

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