Recently there was a news story about some Taiwanese police who arrested a man for stealing a bicycle. But, when they discovered how poor he was, and that the bike was to help his daughter — who had to walk six miles daily from her school to the hospital to take care of him, the police not only chose not to press charges, but they pitched in and bought the man’s daughter a bike.

I’m not advocating “rewarding” the actions of those who’ve committed crimes, but our justice system often fails to account for the circumstances and situation that have led to the person committing the crime. Our blanket solution tends to be jail and/or fine for a whole range of harms.

This bringing of third-side thinking to justice was something else that I really loved about the TV series The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Whenever Precious caught up with the criminal, she didn’t necessarily just turn them over to the police. She often cornered them with evidence into taking action that benefited others, while keeping their dignity intact.

A shady lawyer of her acquaintance is caught committing fraud. She makes him sign an agreement never to do it again, and then has him donate all his “ill gotten goods” to the local orphanage, where he gets attention and accolades for his “good” works. A woman comes to Precious for help. Her husband has purchased a new-to-him car for a too-good-to-be-true price. The wife knows the people her husband bought the car from must have stolen it. Precious works with the wife to “steal” the car from the husband and return it to the police so that they can return it to the rightful owners.

Maybe these aren’t ideal examples of restorative-type justice (after all, it’s a fictional series and must have its drama and intrigue), but they are a meaningful alternative to the lock-em-up philosophy of justice, and a demonstration that when people cause harm, the reasons are deeper than just a “bad” person.

There are lots of great examples of restorative justice and alternative programs for prisons (such as the Missouri model) that use third-side thinking.

What good programs are happening in your own community and state that are changing the “corrections” system? What can you do to help transform those systems into better ones?

~ Marsha

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