My very first day back in the States, I had class all morning for a leadership program in the county that I am a member of. While it was a bit rough to try and stay awake through it all after so much travelling the last few days and jetlag, I can't imagine a more interesting way to have passed that morning.
That Thursday was what we call an "Industry Day," when we do site visits and have speakers talk with us according to the theme of the day. Thursday's was the judicial system, so we spent our morning between a conference room, a courtroom, and the county jail.
Yes, I spent my first morning back in the States in court and then in jail. You can laugh. :)
But in all seriousness, it was really an interesting morning. I've never sat in on a live court session in the States before. This was a special court, in fact--something known as Drug Court. It is where people who are guilty of non-violent drug crimes (possession of, falsifying prescriptions for drug use, etc) who might otherwise get up to even 9 years in prison for their crime, can instead be sent to drug court for trial and conviction there. In this court, they go through a special programme with four phases, and if they successfully complete this program they are free to go.
The programme that they go through in the Drug Court is a restorative programme; one that helps them to work through their problem instead of merely punishing them for the results of that problem.
It was really fascinating to experience that and talk with the judge and other people part of the court process to see how and why this court is run.
In fact, the very last time I sat in court as a witness was back in Rwanda, in the days when the Gacaca (pronounced Gachacha) courts were still operating. You can, in fact, read the post I wrote on my then-blog about that experience here if you want. These were courts that opened up to try those from the genocide as the international tribunes would never get through them all. These courts also operated according to the traditional village court model. One of the really beautiful aspects of these courts was their emphasis not on justice to the full measure (because an eye for an eye is justice to the full measure, yes, when in comes to genocide crimes? Yet if you operate on an eye for an eye system, you will have no society left to restore; no hope for redemption; no promise for a brighter future.) but rather on mercy. They wanted to have a society to rebuild, not merely a punished society.
I had never seen such a beautiful blending of mercy and justice before in my life as I witnessed day after day in Rwanda; as I witnessed that one particular six hours in court in Rwanda.
I love the fact that the system in the States is realising that punitive justice is not always the best way of dealing with people. We are humans and as such we are all broken in some way. It is the human predicament. So to begin instead to help us heal ourselves; to learn how to become whole people again and know that this exercise of mercy (not simply a releasing of the wrong-doer, but an investment in their restoration) is better for our society in the end than carrying out full justice on people who have committed crimes out of their brokenness is exciting to me. To exercise mercy and grace and to repair and heal instead of punish and lock away and leave the problem to continue to grow or fester and likely repeat itself when they are released from prison. I am so happy to see that transpiring here.