Randy Cohen, The Ethicist, who writes an insightful and often humorous column for the New York Times Magazine, made a good case for using restorative justice recently.  He answered a question asked by a restaurant manager if he should call the police on a server who was caught stealing.  Mr. Cohen said no!  He pointed out the failings of our justice system in clear and undeniable terms.  The sever too had admitted guilt and offered to pay back the money.

Instead of calling the police and applying our failed criminal justice system, the manager could have tied a restorative justice intervention.  It could have met the needs of both of the manager and the server more than the criminal justice system.

Quick research into the restaurant manager’s city address determined that it was close to Baltimore, Maryland, where the the Community Conferencing Center run by Lauren Abramson is located.  I called Lauren and she said , “Sure we could help.”  Unfortunately, the manager called the police regardless of Cohen’s advice.  Here is my letter to the NYT’s magazine:

Dear New York Times Magazine Editor:

Having been a defense and prosecuting attorney, and health educator designing programs to help victims heal, and offenders desist from crime, I appreciated ethicist Randy Cohen’s advice for the restaurant manager to not call the police on the defrauding server.  Sorry the manager ignored it, and that he didn’t seek a restorative justice intervention.

The manager could have found restorative solutions for the employee to repair the harm, including regain trust, and prevent future violations.  If the employee has a drug problem, like most imprisoned in America today, that too could be addressed restoratively.

The Community Conferencing Center in Baltimore, located near the manager, provides restorative options, which research shows are more effective than traditional approaches.  Restorative justice gives people more satisfaction, it prevents future crime more, and when people agree to pay damages, their compliance is greater than when court ordered.

Thank you for Mr. Cohen’s thoughtful column.

Very truly yours,  Lorenn Walker