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by Joseph de Rivera

Negotiation is being increasingly used to settle civil disputes and, in the future it may be increasingly used in criminal cases. Our current legal system considers crime to be an offense against the state. A representative of the state prosecutes offenders and, when the prosecution is “successful,” the state punishes the offender, who is thereby made into a “criminal.” Rather than acknowledging doing, the offender often attempts to avoid responsibility by offering a defense. In the process the victim is largely ignored and the relationship between perpetrator and victim is left unattended. By contrast, it may be argued that the essence of most serious crimes is that they rupture human relationships and create distrust among people, and that primary attention should be paid to repairing these relationships. An alternative procedure is to have the state ask the victim if he or she would like to meet the offender and see what the offender could do to restore the human relationship between them. Studies of trial programs of such “restorative justice” have found that about 50% of victims want to meet the person who wronged them, that it is usually possible to negotiate a way to restore the human relationship, that the fearfulness of victims is greatly reduced and that there is less recidivism. Justice has been attained nonviolently, by restoration rather than retribution. [See Howard Zehr, Changing Lens]

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