Restorative justice and the death penalty
Empathy rather than apathy
Those who have never been assaulted or had a loved one brutally attacked or murdered can hardly relate to those who have.
One can hardly imagine the suffering and overall trauma induced by such an experience. One thing to surmise, however, is that dealing with the legal proceedings in the aftermath must be exceptionally difficult. Not only have these individuals been utterly devastated, they now have to relive it repeatedly in the courtroom, the functioning of which is likely to be completely unfamiliar.
LaVarr McBride addressed this issue in his presentation titled “Rooted within Restorative Justice for Death Penalty Cases: Defense Initiated Victim Outreach,” during which he advocated for the victim experience and the need for them to be empowered and affirmed throughout the legal process.
Victims are often isolated from their case because those involved show no empathy for their situation. Their emotional needs are not met and they feel displaced in a setting wherein they do not understand the logistics. The opportunity to ask real questions and get real answers could often make all the difference in whether the proceedings are torturous or restorative.
McBride introduced the practice of Defense Initiated Victim Outreach, wherein a victim outreach specialist, acting as proxy, facilitates open communication between the victim and the defense.
“People who are victims of crime heal in different ways. Some really want to put it behind them and go forward with their lives and never think about it again. But others have many, many questions.” said McBride, quoting former victim Ellen Halbert who has now been the vice chair of the Texas board of criminal justice for many years. “And the only person who can answer [many] of the questions victims have is that offender.”
The program is completely voluntary on the victim’s part and is based on principles of restorative justice that emphasize repairing the damage that has been done utilizing all involved parties.
“Victims need to feel like a part of the process and like what they say matters,” McBride said. “[They] deserve access to every part of the criminal justice system.”
According to McBride, the DIVO process remains confidential, independent of the defense, without influential bias and completely supportive of the victim’s needs. The goal is to reduce the adversarial nature and negative impacts of the legal process.
As a victim-centered practice, DIVO evokes empathy, honesty and respect rather than the fear, confusion and anger that lie in the wake of apathy.
“If I could promote one concept from this conference it would be that issues of justice, morality, punishment and redemption always involve human beings, are always more complex and far-reaching than we know.”
– Nancy Rushforth, Associate Professor of Humanities/Philosophy
“I do not set out to change students’ minds about the death penalty; my goal is to provide them with enough information to come to an informed opinion, whatever that opinion may be.”
– Sandy McGunigall-Smith, Associate Professor of Behavioral Science
“I think in many ways this might have been the most successful and consistent turnout we have ever had. Students seemed enthusiastic, engaged and like they were considering both sides.”
– Alan Clarke, Professor of Humanities/Philosophy
“People gleefully cheered the conditions under which people should be put to death and what kind of suffering they should endure, not with lament or regret, but with affirmation. It was extraordinarily unsettling to me and it made me grieve.”
– Michael Minch, Associate Professor of Philosophy