Read this NYT article, Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?, published last Friday, highlighting one family's experience with the Restorative Justice process. Generally, I'm a fan, as incarceration doesn't seem like it brings closure to victims of crimes and I have strong doubts about jail as a one-size-fits-all societal solution.
However, in the case of domestic violence, particularly murder, I am uneasy and less convinced. Domestic violence (DV) is not like other crimes. It may seem compelling to think of DV fatalities as similar to drunk driving fatalities and it is certainly tempting to offer justifications, meaning, and forgiveness such as the murder being an especially bad night, a lapse in judgment, or a disease. Yet, a pattern of power and control is almost always present in DV fatalities and contrary to popular belief, it is not an anger management issue. Underlying domestic violence are issues of entitlement, power, and exploitation. I am concerned that if the parents featured in this NYT article had been connected with a domestic violence expert, they may have made a different decision regarding sentencing. The article implied that they were surprised that violence had been present in the relationship, "Conor was prone to bursts of irrational rage. Ann never told her parents that he had struck her several times." I'm not saying it certainly would have made a difference, but it's important to the process of restorative justice that they have full context and relevant information in making their recommendation about sentencing, and it doesn't sound like they received appropriate domestic violence education.
I am also curious what role race is playing in this outcome. What if the defendant was black? The incarceration rates in the US are disproportionately skewed to be a consequence for black men who have not graduated high school. (If you're looking for a book to read on that topic, I highly suggest the new book by Beth Richie, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America's Prison Nation.) Restorative justice certainly has a role to play in addressing this social epidemic. However, I am very skeptical that this process would have been offered to a young man of color. It could be that this case example seems like one more instance of white men not being held accountable to their actions and adding to the narrative that when men murder their female partners, it must be a "senseless tragedy" rather than an epidemic of men's violence against women.
Note: The only mention in the article of seeking a domestic violence expert was with the prosecutor, when he was seeking consultation regarding a sentence, "Campbell would consult with community leaders, the head of a local domestic-violence shelter and others before arriving at the sentence he would offer McBride." This article could have been significantly strengthened if the reporter had also sought a DV expert. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence has an excellent resource for journalists.