But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount Luke 19:8
In the passage quoted above, Zacchaeus was moved by repentance to make restitution to those he had cheated. That is the ultimate goal of justice- recognition of wrong doing, ownership of it, and the determination to make amends and/or restitution.
I am concluding this discussion on restitution by considering the benefits of restitution for the perpetrator, the victim, as well as society in general. When the victim of a crime, or scam or any other unfair act can be made whole financially, that individual is obviously better off. They also receive the satisfaction of having been vindicated for the violation. Crime victims experience trauma. That trauma is always made worse when society or others minimize the impact of the event. A system whereby the victim is supported by the government in being restored validates that the crime was serious, and that they were injured by it.
Think of the trauma of rape in past years (and even perhaps currently) when victims are made to feel that they were partly to blame somehow for the violation. That makes the trauma immeasurably worse. They were not believed. If perpetrators of rape were to be mandated to pay all the costs of restoring the victim- medical care, counseling, lost wages, etc., healing could begin much sooner and more completely.
Restitution also restores the perpetrator. It gives that individual the opportunity to repent, and to participate in helping to heal of the effects of their wrongdoing. It can restore the dignity lost in the harming of another human being.
Finally, society benefits because true justice is being approached by the restoration of a balance that had been upset by wrong behavior. Further, if restitution could replace, in some ways, prison time, society reaps a larger cost savings. It also has the restoration of one of its members who may be able to move on in life in a new and productive way.
All of these concepts are, at least to some degree, theoretical and idealistic. I realize that any system of restorative justice will have limitations. However, I write these pieces to simply have us consider what could be, what may work better, and to aspire to a higher form of justice.
Prayer: Lord, give us wisdom to deal with justice in a restorative way. Change our hearts toward restoration, Amen.