"Restorative justice" is a concept that has been written
about, talked about, and argued about. However, only a few
people have actually been engaged in the practice of "restorative
justice." Fortunately, the number of such practitioners is
growing, and the faith community is discovering that restorative
justice is closely related to such biblical truths as redemption,
reconciliation and healing.
 I have had the privilege of representing the community on
three restorative justice panels dealing with three situations in
which individuals had committed crimes, had been arrested, had
admitted their breaking of the law, and were at the point of being
sentenced by a judge. One case involved shoplifting at a
store. A second case involved theft of valuable equipment by
an employee at his place of work. A third case had to do with
a nephew who had been hired to repair the house of his aunt.
He was given several months of free rent and some monetary payment,
but never performed the work.
 In all three cases, the normal judicial procedure would have
been for the judge to hand down "retributive justice," some form of
punishment-a fine, probation, and/or some time in jail.
However, because of a '"restorative justice" program in Milwaukee
County, the judge decided to refer these persons to restorative
justice panels, in which the perpetrator, the victim, and two
representatives of the community sat in a circle, along with a
trained facilitator, to give those persons who had been hurt by the
crime an opportunity to talk "eyeball to eyeball" with the person
who had caused the hurt.
 Under the retributive form of justice, the perpetrator of
the crime would not really have talked to the persons he/she had
hurt-the victim and the community. Instead it would have been
the perpetrator's lawyer (public defender or defense attorney) who
would have talked to the attorney representing the state-the
district attorney-not primarily to bring healing to the aggrieved
persons and community who had been hurt by the crime, but to
determine according to the laws of the state, the technical
seriousness of the crime and the level of punishment to be meted
out, once guilt had been determined.
 A case could also be made that the aggrieved person and
community are not the only persons hurt by a crime. The
perpetrator of a crime is likewise damaged by the crime. The
one who commits a crime usually goes away from the scene of the
crime thinking that they have never been in better shape in their
lives. After all, they have just succeeded in their
enterprise and are feeling pretty good about themselves.
However, they have just shattered their own integrity and broken
the trust of the victim and the community-all of which is needed to
live a healthy life from day to day.
 The courtroom model of retributive justice does at times
result in restoring wholeness and healing, if restitution is made
and if the perpetrator comes to grips with himself/herself and
works to restore integrity and relationships. However, under
this model, seldom does the perpetrator approach the victim
directly, to make amends and to restore the relationship, and more
often than not, returns from incarceration embittered and more
broken than ever.
 If offenders do not have their integrity and their
relationships restored, the victims and all of society
suffer. Half of the 22,000 persons incarcerated in the state
of Wisconsin are offenders who have served time in prison, were
released, and then returned to prison because their integrity and
their relationships with the community were not restored.
 Longer sentences and harsher treatment do not bring healing
and wholeness. These are elements in the retributive justice
system that are designed for punishment, not for wholeness.
 The restorative justice model, as the name itself indicates,
is designed to "restore" what is hurting and broken. This is
not minimizing the seriousness of the crime or "going soft on
crime," as politicians and others put it today. The
restorative justice model insists that crime is much deeper than
simply breaking a law. It is breaking relationships and
shattering the lives of human beings and of the entire
community. Justice therefore requires that these
relationships be restored and that these lives be healed.
That is not being "soft on crime." That is being "tough on
crime." That is getting at the roots of crime.
 Let me share the story of one of the three restorative
justice panels that I participated in, to show how this model
 A 17-year-old young man had stolen some sound equipment
from his place of work, worth $25,000. The value of the
equipment lifted this crime to the level of a felony-a crime the
district attorney was obliged to take very seriously. The
guilty employee was tracked down within 48 hours and the equipment
was retrieved. Neither the company nor the DA were about to
drop the charges in such a serious theft.
 Because the perpetrator of the crime was a first-time
offender and 17 years old, and because there is a restorative
justice program and structure in place in Milwaukee County, the DA
was willing to refer the case to a restorative justice panel.
 So the perpetrator of the crime, a representative of the
company for whom the offender worked, two representatives from the
community (trained in restorative justice principles) and a
facilitator came together for the express purpose of dealing with
the serious nature of the crime and for the purpose of restoring
the brokenness caused by the crime. I was one of the two
 The facilitator first stated the purpose of the
panel. The very words we all heard are seldom heard in a
courtroom: "We want to deal with the seriousness of this
crime, what happened, why it happened, how it negatively impacted
the workplace and the community, and how we can heal the brokenness
in the offender, the workplace, and in the community. "
 As the young offender haltingly described how he managed to
remove $25,000 worth of equipment from his place of employment, he
was not facing a judge or a jury that held the power of punishment
over his head. He was forced to tell "the community" about a
deed that he figured he would get by with and would never have to
talk about to anyone. Telling the community what he did was
the beginning of the long healing process.
 Then when he was asked to dig deep into his psyche and soul
to tell why he did it, it became infinitely more difficult.
He was forced to reach into spaces he was not that familiar with
himself. Clearly this struggle with the root causes of an
offender's criminal actions is essential for any healing
 Then it came time for the offender to hear the hurt that he
had created at his workplace-the broken relationships with his
supervisors, his fellow employees and with the company who had
placed trust in him. There was also the difficulty of getting
a job recommendation from his supervisors, when he applies for his
 Beyond the workplace, the offender heard from the two of us
from the community that stealing from a company, especially by a
teenager, has its ripple effect on the whole community, creating
anti-youth attitudes, growing fear of crime, and less and less
sense of trust and neighborliness in the community.
 In place of incarceration, the panel agreed that the young
offender should carry out some community service that would help
him confront his wrong and hurtful choice and would at the same
time serve a real need in the community. Consequently he was
required to go to a weekly gathering of at-risk youth to share his
story and to tell them it is in their self-interest not to steal on
the job or in the community. He was to do this with me being
present, and then he was to meet with me in a pastoral setting to
discuss the experience, and, since he had expressed a faith in God,
he was to discuss with me the moral and theological aspects of
stealing, as well as his journey of confession, repentance and
 He did carry out the prescribed steps of testifying,
sharing, and dealing with his criminal action. Not only did
he honestly talk about his own bad choice with these toughened
youth from his peer group, warning them not to follow in his
footsteps, but he even went back to the group on his own, just to
continue the relationship.
 Only time will tell whether this face-to-face interaction
between offender, victim, and community was sufficient to heal the
broken integrity and relationships. However, this authentic
process of seeking to go beyond punishment for breaking a law, to a
deeper restoration of the brokenness and healing of the wounds that
always happen when a crime is committed against a person/community,
stands a better chance of healing and restoring than sending,
especially a first-time offender, to incarceration, where
criminality is taught and nurtured daily by professional
 The national movement toward restorative justice in all its
expressions (including community-based mental health and drug
treatment for persons so afflicted) warrants deep scrutiny and
serious implementation by people of faith everywhere.