Most people would recoil at the suggestion that they spend time with hardened criminals and the families of their victims, says the American Bar Association Journal. Yet Janine Geske, a former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, opted after five years on the high court bench to pursue restorative justice, with its capacity for bringing healing to victims of crime–and often to offenders as well. “Restorative justice,” or RJ, describes a number of processes that focus on repairing the harm caused by crime. It has a forward-looking orientation that avoids looking at punishment in isolation of both victim and community needs. RJ brings together of victims and offenders for a dialogue that fosters the emotional healing process.
RJ works. Even some big-city district attorneys have started incorporating it into their work. Today, it is being used in some way in every state in the U.S., as well as in jurisdictions around the world, including South America, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Now a distinguished professor of law at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Geske teaches a popular class on RJ. She has also run an RJ program at the maximum security prison in Green Bay, Wi., for eight years. She brings groups of crime victims to the facility to describe–in great detail–what violent crime does to one's sense of self, to one's family and, in a very real way, to one's soul. “The beauty of a victim/offender dialogue is that it is a safe environment for difficult conversations,” she says.