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NYC Attorney Urges Restorative Justice As Tough-Punishment Option

A court sentencing in New York City stood out to Erika Sasson, an attorney and practitioner who designs and facilitates restorative justice programs. The sentencing was for a young man who shot a gun and killed a bystander. Those kinds of hearings are usually charged, and the relatives of the victim typically stand far away from the family of the person who killed their loved one. Sasson wrote for Vox that there is almost no actual accountability in such cases. In this case, the two families came together before sentencing. At sentencing, the prosecutor suggested that the court impose a lower sentence in light of the defendant's efforts toward transformation. The judge did so. Before he did, the victim’s husband came to the stand to speak.

“I would like the court to know that I forgive this young man. Not because I’m a minister, not because I have to, but because of the heartfelt conversation that we had in the restorative justice program,” he said. Sasson designed the restorative justice program in the case, which took her the better part of a year. At one point in the process, a facilitated dialogue without any lawyers present between the young man and the husband happened. Sasson said the question at hand came from Navajo peacemaking tradition, which asks: What do we need to move forward in a good way? Mass incarceration comes at the annual cost of $270 billion in the U.S., and it has done little to reduce violent crime or create healthy communities. Sasson says some places are building new strategies that are focused on safety, healing and accountability.


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