Can Justice Heal?

Attica State Prison, the maximum-security facility best known for the 1971 riots in which 32 inmates and 10 hostages were killed, sits in upstate New York. Just 10 miles north is Genesee County, a conservative community that shares Attica’s rural setting but offers a contrasting way of administering justice: a restorative approach that not only involves the offender and the victim, but the greater community as well.

Working out of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department, the Genesee Justice program examines whether justice can be tough and compassionate at the same time. Started in 1981, it is one of the first restorative justice projects to deal with serious crime as well as misdemeanors. Genesee Justice bases its work on a series of principles that hold the offender accountable while ministering to the victim and the community with hopes, ultimately, for reconciliation and healing.

Offenders are not offered leniency, but are provided with a chance to make amends for their crimes and restore their standing in the community. Reparations can rebuild broken trust while benefiting community organizations. People charged with driving while intoxicated have made monetary reparations to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the American Cancer Society. Community service requirements have produced a restored town hall, two additional rooms on the Baptist church, and workers to serve at area homeless shelters. For many offenders, this interaction is the first real opportunity they’ve had to contribute to their community.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1997
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