Restorative Justice in Murder Cases

The CBS TV news program “60 Minutes” did a story Sunday May 12, called “The Most Unlikely Meeting,” about using restorative justice principles to bring together family members of murder victims face-to-face with the murderers. Interviews with both the family members and the convicted murderers demonstrate the power of this process. One murderer admits that he cannot explain why he pulled the trigger, but highly regrets what he did, and receiving the forgiveness of his victim’s sister has brought him some measure of peace, even though he’s likely to spend the rest of his life in prison. The sister explained how she was herself a prisoner to her bitterness and unforgiveness, and she has been freed by getting to talk with her brother’s killer. Other stories are similarly moving.

These encounters, all in Wisconsin, are facilitated by the Restorative Justice Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School. The program claims it has facilitated a hundred of these interviews over the last ten years, as well as launching other efforts to improve the criminal justice system.

In my own limited experience with restorative justice efforts, we’ve steered away from felonies and personal injury crimes, believing them to be “too hard” to facilitate. But, the greater the crime, the deeper the need for healing, on both sides. The UW RJ Project shows what’s possible.

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