Deferred prosecution is not restorative justice. Both are attempts to improve retributive criminal justice, but restorative justice is a complex, rich movement based on Indigenous justice practices.
So while New Mexico’s respected former Chief Justice Richard Bosson’s letter (“Justice fails in obelisk case,” May 26) bemoaning the disposition in the obelisk case reflects a valid strand of community sentiment, it misses what restorative justice is.
Former District Attorney Marco Serna gets closer (“Restorative justice wrong answer in Plaza destruction,” Letters to the Editor, July 4) when he distinguishes deferred prosecution from restorative justice. Still, he also omits what it can give: what Bosson and Serna and columnist Milan Simonich all demand — fuller justice and more information for the community.
You can’t, in the traditional system, demand that offenders give account of their actions (that Fifth Amendment thing). You can, potentially, force the artifice of a trial and a rigid sentence.
But another former chief justice, Robert Yazzie of the Navajo Nation, has long advocated from the wisdom of his people a process that includes the community and produces a much more comprehensive, healing story for all. It begins in confidentiality (not “secrecy” — some sinister dark place of corruption) and ends in an accounting, a responsible narrative, that includes victims and offenders and those who care.
Yazzie and Mennonite Howard Zehr explain the theory of restorative justice, something that aspires to (and mostly produces) an inclusive process, usually through “circles” that involve all the sectors of the community affected. Some restorative justice circles are permanent aspects of neighborhoods, some are part of ongoing conversations, in prisons, for example.
I participated in the latter for almost 12 years in Texas prisons, and when felons who have had the safety but challenge of victim talks and small, confidential groups over 14 weeks, choose to share, it is transcendent. Having the old prisoner finally allow voluntarily, in tears, that he did steal from his grandmother, in front of a room of felons, cannot be scripted. It is something the rules of evidence cannot imagine.
The city government precipitated much of this; I was there on the morning the obelisk fell, incredulous that they chose Indigenous Peoples Day to dismantle the plywood panels emblazoned by Indigenous people. It was a set-up.
As that was our shared government, it is our shared task to hear out a process that is structured to foster accountability and story, not unilateral punishment. I’m new here, and I need to learn the story, in its completeness, not chopped up by the artificial adversarial constraints of the courtroom.
I taught the rules of evidence for years and know how antithetical to true understanding they tend to be. I watched restorative justice for years and know how redemptive it can be.