Quick Hit: The NYT on restorative justice

Paul Tullis has a haunting piece in the New York Times on the role of forgiveness in the criminal justice system–explored through the aftermath of a devastating murder of a young woman, Ann Grosmaire, by her boyfriend Conor McBridge. The long article is a really tough read, but I appreciate that Tullis explores restorative justice through the response to an unquestionably terrible crime; too often, I fear, alternatives to traditional carceral approaches are discussed only for minor offenses like drug use and petty theft, which allows everyone, from defenders of the prison system to abolitionists, to avoid the hardest questions.

The details of the Ann’s killer’s sentencing process and punishment will likely only satisfy moderate reformers, but testimonies from the Grosmaire parents and Conor are deeply affecting and provide a powerful call to radically rethink our response to violence:

The Grosmaires said they didn’t forgive Conor for his sake but for their own. “Everything I feel, I can feel because we forgave Conor,” Kate said. “Because we could forgive, people can say her name. People can think about my daughter, and they don’t have to think, Oh, the murdered girl. I think that when people can’t forgive, they’re stuck. All they can feel is the emotion surrounding that moment. I can be sad, but I don’t have to stay stuck in that moment where this awful thing happened. Because if I do, I may never come out of it. Forgiveness for me was self-preservation.”

Still, their forgiveness affected Conor, too, and not only in the obvious way of reducing his sentence. “With the Grosmaires’ forgiveness,” he told me, “I could accept the responsibility and not be condemned.” Forgiveness doesn’t make him any less guilty, and it doesn’t absolve him of what he did, but in refusing to become Conor’s enemy, the Grosmaires deprived him of a certain kind of refuge — of feeling abandoned and hated — and placed the reckoning for the crime squarely in his hands.

You can read the full piece here.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted January 7, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this. The NYT piece is indeed haunting. One issue for those interested in restorative justice is that of women incarcerated for having put an end to domestic violence. As Lisa Vetten and Kaila Bhana have shown (in Global Lockdown), in South Africa this has resulted in the situation of women having to `restore justice’ by somehow `reconciling’ with the parents of abusive partners.

  2. Posted January 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this.

    While I really like the concept of restorative justice, I am very distressed at the idea of applying it to violent crimes – especially domestic homicide.

    I was glad to see that several of the commenters on the original article pointed out how the nuances of domestic violence do not seem to have been taken into account, either by the parties tasked with rendering justice, or by the author of the article. I also got the impression that the folks involved have been snookered by a charming abuser, which adds insult to injury in an already tragic situation.

    Setting aside the numerous concerns I have about whether justice was truly achieved in this particular incident, what about potential future victims? Perpetrators of domestic violence are extraordinarily resistant to reform, with distressingly high recidivism rates. I am not convinced that the punishment/treatment that has been ordered will do enough to help reduce the risk to future victims. It’s important to not lose sight of the fact that some perpetrators are more dangerous, and more likely to harm again, and that it behooves us to be realistic about the risks.

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