By Courtney Tolhurst

Restorative justice is a conflict resolving method that focuses more on the mental aspects of justice rather than the physical imprisonment of criminals.

This approach consists of identifying who was affected by the crime, getting the input of both the offender and the victim, and taking whatever steps necessary to rehabilitate them both back into society.

Some of these steps include going to daily/weekly/monthly groups aimed at helping criminals and victims return to society safely and comfortably. Restorative justice allows the victim and the offender to come to a greater understanding of one another, and in some cases work past the issue at hand and return to their daily lives stronger than they were before.

I have seen restorative justice in action, and it has had very positive outcomes. When I was younger, I loved to tickle my little brother. I thought it was the most entertaining thing in the world, but he absolutely hated it. He would get so upset and feel powerless and angry every time, so eventually my brother went to my dad and had him mediate while we talked out our issues. In the end we were able to resolve the conflict because I was to have $15 removed from my bank account and placed in his account every time I tickled him.

I agreed because I realized after talking with my brother in a controlled environment that I was actually hurting him and he was losing trust in me. My dad made a great decision when he decided to try using restorative justice instead of just putting me in a time-out. My brother and I continued to use this style of conflict resolution every time we got into a major argument and it was, and still is, effective and helpful.

At the very end of World War I, the United States, Great Britain and France got together at the Paris Peace Conference. Their goal was to decide what should happen to Germany. Germany was not invited to the conference and had no say in what was to be done. Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which stated that World War I was entirely Germany (and Austria’s) fault. The treaty also demanded that Germany pay for all the damage caused by the war and was no longer allowed to have an air force or an army greater than 100,000 men.

In the end, Germany owed the Allied forces 132 billion gold marks ($33 billion), which was clearly unreasonable and impossible to pay back, considering Germany had put all of the money and resources it had into the war, leaving it devastated and hardly able to feed its own people.

Germany began printing money to pay back its debt, causing great inflation and not fixing anything. Ultimately the way World War I was handled led to many more negative outcomes than positive. World War II for example.

If Germany had been invited to the Treaty of Paris and the U.S., Great Britain, and France had taken the time to listen to Germany’s point of view, many conflicts could have been avoided, possibly even World War II.

Restorative Justice is not easily obtainable. If you want all parties to be happy with the outcome, everyone has to work together to achieve the best results. Working together can be very difficult, especially if you’re trying to work with someone you have wronged or who has wronged you, but it is not impossible.

Justice can be served without ruining lives. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” meaning, justice is something that you must work for, it doesn’t come easily. Yet, when it is obtained, your struggle will be worth the effort.

When my brother and I had to sit in a room together and discuss our differences, it wasn’t fun, but it was necessary to resolve our conflict. If Germany had been invited to the Paris Peace conference, it wouldn’t have been pleasant, but it would have been necessary to work out a resolution that would have resulted in better outcomes than what the actual outcome was.

Courtney Tolhurst is a student at Sonora High School. This is her award winning essay for the Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest.

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