Community residents and members of the Westminster United Methodist Church gathered recently for a discussion about the concept of restorative justice — broadly speaking, mediation between the victim and the offender — and how it is already being used to resolve conflicts in Carroll schools.
The conversation was part of the Church & Society series that welcomes the public into the church’s social hall.
The Rev. Malcolm Stranathan said the conversations address topics that are important to the community. The first serious concern many think of is the opioid crisis, but they have addressed others that may get less attention like zoning and affordable housing in the county or making connections with other faith communities.
The leader of the discussion on Thursday, Jan. 31, was Delmas Wood, who has more than 40 years of experience in the juvenile justice system and works in prison ministry. He is the program coordinator at Community Conferencing of Carroll County, a conflict resolution program that addresses juvenile court cases as an alternative to a formal court hearing.
Community Conferencing of Carroll County is a fund of the Community Foundation of Carroll County Inc.
By Delmas Wood - Community Conferencing of Carroll County
Nov 12, 2017 | 7:00 PM
The modern American justice system dates back about 200 years, he said, and in many ways is characterized as retributive justice.
"In this country, I'm going to suggest to you that in the criminal system we equate justice with punishment,” Wood said. “So the question is, ‘Was the right person convicted?’ and ‘Did he get the right amount of punishment for what he did?’ ”
This series of questions may look like, “What harm was done?” “What would it take to make it right?” and “Whose obligation is that?”
The outcome of restorative justice is ideally a restorative action.
The difference is, “Offenders get what they deserve versus offenders are accountable for repairing the harm,” Wood said.
The paradigm shift also re-frames the idea of a crime. Rather than just an action that breaks a law, restorative justice is based on recognition that harm was done.
Wood feels this idea helps include victims more in the resolution of conflict. Speaking from the perspective of someone who served as a probation officer in the 1970s, he said there has been significant progress since then even regarding how victims are treated in the legal system.
Beyond the conceptual discussion, Wood shared examples from his work in Community Conferencing working with young people.
A conference includes both parties sitting down in a room together, often with parents, grandparents and other parties.
Wood said he has had participants and parents come close to blows, but 95 percent of conferences end with success and a written agreement.
He shared a story of one 13-year-old who started the session unwilling to speak at all. His grandfather and the father of the girl he was accused of harassing began arguing. But Wood believes after the girl’s mother broke down the barrier and spoke kindly to the boy, the two kids were able to talk out their differences. The adults followed suit.
The end of the talk was free-form, and the approximately 30 participants asked questions and shared their thoughts on the topic.