Kirby Trask is a Criminal Justice / Sociology professor at Roberts Wesleyan
College in Rochester, NY, and a board member of the Finger Lakes Restorative
Justice Center located in Rochester (see his bio link below). He describes his years
of implementing Restorative Justice within Genesee County, NY as an ongoing
event of coordination between the parties involved. He feels that it
is a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor. Here is an article that he wrote
for a Rochester, Ny, newspaper.
jails will not put crime under lock and key
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - January 22, 2008 - Kirby Trask - Guest
The number of Americans in prison reportedly has risen eightfold since 1970,
with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society. More
than 2.25 million people are incarcerated in our jails, and state and federal
About 19 percent of these inmates are violent offenders. The rest primarily
were involved in drug or property crimes. Most will come back to our communities,
and most will reoffend. There is no evidence that keeping people in prison
or jail longer makes society safer.
Taking a "restorative justice" approach is an essential step toward addressing
these issues. Restorative justice is rooted in reconciliation and restitution
rather than vengeful punishment. It is a philosophy inherent to the criminal
justice programs at Roberts Wesleyan College. It's also central to other local
organizations such as the Finger Lakes Restorative Justice Center in Rochester,
and Genesee Justice Programs in Batavia (one of a few governmental agencies
in the United States doing applied restorative justice work within a criminal
At issue is what society can do to address the harm done to victims. Victims
have to rise above obstacles and resume as normal a life as possible.
Victims want to be heard. They want dignity and respect. They want to be
made central to the justice process. They want the process to be humanized.
But our current system tells the lawyer's story, not the victim's.
In the restorative justice system, the victim is the hub from which all
the arms of the criminal justice system — police, courts and corrections
— extend. Each arm needs to come back to the center and embrace the idea
that crime is personal.
Currently, there is little to no focus on reintegrating criminals. Many
aren't intellectually or emotionally mature. Their crimes are about "doing
justice" or "undoing an injustice." If we continue to address this mindset
by constantly closing the prison or jail doors on them, we perpetuate that
cycle. Criminals need to be confronted with the consequences of what they
did and be held accountable.
Under New Zealand's restorative justice system, when a violent crime takes
place, law enforcement immediately sends trained volunteers to the scene to
support the victims. For other crimes, family group conferences with the offenders
take place (with the courts overseeing the process). These approaches have
led to reduced incarceration rates, increased number of offenders who admit
guilt, decreased costs and reduced recidivism rates.
Building more jails to address crime is like making more Band-Aids to heal
injuries. We need more effective solutions like restorative justice practices.
Kirby Trask is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Roberts
Wesleyan College, and advisory board member, Finger Lakes Restorative Justice