Restorative Justice: A Model of Healing
Philosophy Consistent With Social Work Values
Instead of retribution, restorative justice emphasizes truth, accountability and healing.
By Sheryl Fred,
Illustration: John Michael Yanson
Paula Kurland has said that she died on Sept. 13, 1986, the day her 21-year-old daughter Mitzi
was brutally stabbed to death in Austin, Texas.
It wasn't until she met her daughter's killer two weeks before his execution in 1998 that she
admitted to feeling alive again. Although she could never forgive Jonathan Nobles' actions, after
a five-hour discussion with him, Kurland was surprised to feel not only relief, but also some
level of compassion for the man about to face lethal injection.
"I walked out of death row a new person," she told PBS in a 2003 report on the death penalty.
This widely publicized case is one of the more striking examples of the power of restorative
justice — a relatively nascent movement that turns the traditional criminal justice model on its
head. Instead of focusing solely on retribution, restorative justice emphasizes truth,
accountability and, most important, healing for the victim, offender and community.
Restorative justice, the roots of which lie largely in indigenous traditions, comes in many forms.
Family group conferencing, derived from the Maori people of New Zealand, is an alternate form
of sentencing that involves the victim, offender and the family and friends of both in resolving a
criminal or delinquent incident. Peacemaking circles, based on Native American talking circles,
bring people together to speak as equals about troubling issues in their communities.
What Kurland and Nobles engaged in is called victim-offender mediation (VOM), also referred
to as victim-offender dialogue, reconciliation or conferencing. Generally used post-adjudication