Crime is defined as an act or omission that the law makes punishable. There are different ways in dealing with crime. One, our current system, is the criminal justice approach. Also known as retributive justice, this system is more offender directed than anything else. The other system, which many people think is better, is the community justice, or restorative approach. The restorative approach is much more victim oriented. There is a debate over which system should be used to deal with crime. The two differ in many ways. One of the areas in which the two differ is the question of whom is the crime a violation of?
The criminal justice system believes that crimes are a violation against the state and are punished by the state. On the other hand, the community justice system says that crimes are a violation of the offender, and the community directly affected by it. The focus of criminal justice is retribution. It is focused on the offender and punishing that person for their crime by imprisonment and other punishments. The community justice system is focused on restoration. Community Justice looks to help the victim deal with the violation and try to get back whatever, if any, possessions were lost in the crime.
The proceedings, in which a resolution is made, are entirely different between the two. At a criminal justice proceeding, the case is tried by a state prosecutor, in front of a judge and decided by a jury. Other than testifying and possibly a victim impact statement, the victim does not have much say in the case. But in a community justice proceeding it is quite the opposite. All parties involved (which include the offender, the victim, both families, any other persons affected by the crime, and a mediator), come together to collectively resolve the offense and its implications for the future.
This “coming together” may be one single event or may occur through a series of meetings, depending on the case. The mediator is trained with skills to prepare people for the process, and is there to ensure it progresses in a safe and civilized manner. The goals of the meetings are ensuring the satisfaction and well-being of the victim, with attention to his/her emotional needs, resolution of any lingering conflict between the victim and offender, and giving the offender a chance to absolve their feelings of guilt through apology and reparation.
Looking toward the future, other steps taken at the proceeding are taking on offenders reasons for the crime, making a rehab plan, and the families agreement on a system of support to ensure the offender will adhere to the plan. Under the retributive justice system, justice is achieved by finding out which law was broken, who broke it, and punishing the offender. The offender is then sentenced to repay the state for his/her crime against it by serving a sentence of some sort, usually in the form of jail or prison time.
In the restorative system, justice is achieved by figuring the harm done, the repair s needed for the harm, and who should repair it. The offender is then accountable to the victim and the community. The state then has the responsibility to ensure that the offender is held accountable to the victim. The offense is defined differently in the two systems. The criminal justice system defines crime legally. All offenses are written and should be strictly observed. While the community system defines crimes socially, again, finding the harm on a person or the community.
The offender, in either system, is indebted to someone. Under the criminal justice approach, the offender has committed a crime against the state and needs to pay fines or serve time to repay the state for his/her offense. Under the community justice approach, however, the victim is seen to have committed a crime against an individual and is indebted to that person and community affected. The basis of the criminal system is of punishment. The theory behind this is that the threat of punishment will deter the crimes from being committed.
It is that that the crime will not be worth the risk of being caught and having a punishment. Then, if a crime is committed, the execution of the punishment is used to hopefully change this criminal behavior. Although an offender may experience suffering in the process of taking responsibility and repairing harm, this system is not based on punishment. It is based, rather, on rehabilitation and restitution. The victim is hoped to be rehabilitated from the impact of the offense and paid back whatever possessions were lost. Also the offender is hoped to be rehabilitated.
It is thought that he/she will see how this crime has affected the victim, and be given a chance to show their remorse, apologize and do whatever else is necessary to remedy the situation as best as possible. Law enforcement and police have totally different roles and approaches under the two systems. Police are the gate keepers of the criminal justice system. They control, with discretion, who comes into the system. Their approach to crime is patrol, surveillance, and investigation. The impact of this on the community is mixed. Some look at it a “big brother” watching over everyone while others see it as a sense of security.
In the community system, approach to crime would be less of a search for crime and more of investigating reports from victims. Police would have less discretion because of the more involved role of the victim. The court systems, as stated earlier, are entirely different. In the criminal justice system, the role of the court is almost entirely to convict and punish the offender. While a strict punishment can be satisfying to a crime victim, there is not much else that they get out of it. On the other hand, the community justice system is mostly victim based.
In a face to face meeting, the victim can get answers to questions that only the offender can answer. With questions like “why did you do this to me? ” and “was this my fault? ” answered by the offender, victims sometimes feel a new peace of mind. Rather than being limited to the definitions of the law, the victim and the offender should both feel a sense of justice when they reach an agreement. The role of corrections is where the major differences between the two systems can be seen. Corrections in the criminal justice system is used to punish, deter, incapacitate, and rehabilitate, mostly in that order.
There are many ways to punish offenders in the retributive system. They range from fines and probation to prison sentences, all the way up to the death penalty. The offender is mostly defined by the crime and by his/her previous convictions. Therefore if an offender is convicted of crimes multiple times, instead of finding out why they are committing these crimes, the sentences just stiffen. The community systems has a different approach at corrections. First, it is much more victim oriented. Support and assistance is available for victims and there families.
Restitution is given priority over any other obligations that the offender may have. There are also many community programs to help victims and offenders. Some communities may provide work so that the offender can pay the restitution and to also help him/her get back on there feet. Offenders are also placed in community service projects that are valued by the community. Church support groups help offenders who are trying to change there life patterns. One of the major advantages of these programs is that offenders leave the corrections system with greater skills than when they entered into it.
As, for being more victim oriented, victims have the chance to shape the obligations the offender has to repair the harm. Also, with the many programs for the victim, including the mediation and government support for victims, they do not feel left out of what goes on after the crime. An argument could last forever on which system is better and why. A better way to look at dealing with crime is to look at it not as this system versus that one, but how can we join the two for a better system. Each has attributes that are necessary, and combining them together would be a good start on the question of how to deal with crime.