A recent Seattle Times article caught some national attention last week. It lauded efforts to incorporate “restorative justice” practices into the criminal justice system, but urged lawmakers to instead “focus on the victims” by giving them what they really want: punishment for offenders, not reliving their emotions. I sympathize with their perspective, but they miss the point. Restorative Justice is not a replacement for Retributive (traditional, Western, law and order style) Justice. Rather, restorative justice acknowledges the harm done at an emotional level that can only be assessed in the mind of the victim. It is not objective, nor can it be held to some legal standard. Yes, offenders must be punished justly. But punishment rarely addresses the full extent of the emotional harm and necessary healing. As we think about how to incorporate restorative justice into corporate/brand crisis management situations, our ideal approach is not to choose between systems of justice, but rather to combine them effectively. That is the only way to address both the objective as well as the subjective harm.
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