The Politics of Atonement

Finding Restorative Justice in Massachusetts

Story by Dax-Devlon Ross

Illustration by Marian Runk

Published on Oct 21, 2013

Would you sit down and have a heart-to-heart with someone who stole your wallet or burglarized your home? That’s the option victims of certain crimes have, in lieu of pressing charges and taking a case through the traditional court system, in 13 Massachusetts cities. “Restorative justice,” as the process is known, forgoes the bureaucratized system of lawyers and juries for a more personal approach to criminal justice: Get perpetrators in a room with victims, families and arresting officers to talk about what happened and the harm that a crime has caused. It may sound soft, but these sit-down sessions (coupled with other penalties like community service) have proven to reduce recidivism in offenders, PTSD and revenge fantasies in crime victims, and the overall costs of administering criminal justice. Writer Dax-Devlon Ross explores how the innovative approach is gradually winning over police departments in Massachusetts cities such as Lowell and Concord, and what that means for criminal justice systems nationwide.

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