“Not everyone’s wounds will heal” after being victimized by crime, an experienced judge says.  This is true.  Some people will never heal.  Restorative justice is not a panacea that will heal every single person’s wounds suffered from being a crime victim.  Restorative justice offers only the opportunity for healing, not a guarantee, but we know from an abundance of research that restorative justice helps many people.

Currently our justice system primarily only offers crime victims one method for healing, which is retribution.  Most people who commit crimes are punished.  Their punishment is supposed to provide “justice” for the victims and the community.  It is an “eye for an eye” type of solution.  Punishing the offender, however, does not provide healing for many victims and often does not rehabilitate offenders who repeat crimes.

Additionally, the retribution solution ignores over 70% of all victims where no one is ever arrested or identified as the perpetrator of the crime committed against them.  These crime victims do not even get retribution, and while some states do provide monetary compensation for some victims, healing is still lacking.

A restorative response can be provided for victims where no one is identified as the person who committed the crime.  In Hawai’i we conducted a unique pilot project with victims of crime with unknown offenders and found restorative interventions were healing for them (See: Restorative Justice Without
Offender Participation:A Pilot Program for Victims, 2004, http://www.iirp.org/library/lwalker04.html
).  By engaging in the pilot the participants told encouraging stories of courage and creativity.  Their being honored and respected by having the opportunity to share their experiences was part of healing, not only for themselves, but for others who heard their stories.

We need to provide opportunities for healing, which restorative justice offers.  It does not guarantee every person who participates in a restorative practice will heal.  It only offers the potential and opportunity for healing,

Recently, Ben Furman, a Finnish psychiatrist and I developed www.apologyletter.org, which provides a confidential program for people to prepare an apology based on restorative principals.  We have recently revised the program, which now offers victims who do not get an apology, the opportunity to imagine an apology.

I found first hand benefits of the program by imagining an apology to a serious crime I suffered.  Despite years of analyzing the crime and how it affected me, I thought I had healed from it completely, but when I imagined an apology I experienced a level of relief and understanding about what happened and how it affected me, which I had not known before.  The unexpected benefits were a huge surprise to me.

The imagined apology is a powerful tool and shows again that we can apply restorative principles without engaging the person who hurt us.  We can bring healing to ourselves.  The opportunity exists.