by Richard Lord
Life without parole is the most common alternative to capital punishment. It removes the criminal from society and costs a fraction as much as execution. Some people see it as more humane than killing the convicted. Some see it as less humane.
But the victims’ (survivors or “co-victims”) needs are violated in both punishment techniques.
Execution and life without parole provide vengeance, which is perceived as a victims’ primary need. But they are “the result of justice denied,” according to Howard Zehr. A professor at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., Zehr is one of the founding voices of the restorative justice movement.
Parole must exist as an incentive for the convicted, according to Zehr. To give the guilty the opportunity to make amends to the victim. Zehr, who has worked extensively with convicted murderers and the families of their victims, says that the condemned’s desire to make amends increases over time. The possibility of parole can accelerate this, allowing considerable relief.
In traditional criminal justice, the adversarial system prevents offenders from acknowledging their responsibility. A restorative justice option practiced in California allows offenders to meet regularly to listen to victims. They grow to understand their responsibilities and they pursue fund-raising activities to pay symbolic restitution to victim assistance programs.
To learn more about the United Methodist Women perspective on restorative justice, read the spiritual growth study The Journey: Forgiveness, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation.