The public's reactions to the verdict of Casey Anthony trial indicate that people have the strong need for healing and closure in addition to rage, and want to understand why she did what she did (regardless of the alleged murder or concealing Caylee's death) and the role the dysfunctional family dynamics played in the crime. However, even if the court had convicted Casey of murder, it could not have addressed those psychological and emotional issues, because of the limitations of the adversarial system. Restorative justice, however, can be used to address these needs.
Restorative justice represents a relatively new and alternative approach to administer justice to adult and juvenile offenders in community and in incarceration in the United States. Restorative justice procedures usually involve a face-to-face meeting of the victim, the offender, community, and/or family members for both sides. This approach not only creates the accountability for the offenders but also gives individuals, families, and community most directly impacted by wrongdoing the opportunity to participate in the resolution process and to heal the wounds of the crime. Rooted in indigenous traditions and endorsed by the United Nations, restorative justice has been integrated into the criminal justice processes by many countries. At least 35 States in the U.S. have some legislations concerning restorative justice. However, except a few states (e.g., Minnesota, Pennsylvania) that regulate the application of restorative justice with adult offenders (in addition to the conventional justice system), most of the states (including Florida) confine the practice of restorative justice to nonviolent juvenile offenders.
There are at least three differences between restorative justice and the traditional justice:
1. Restorative justice views crime as a violation of social relationships, whereas the conventional justice system considers crime a violation against the law and society.
2, Restorative justice's primary aim is to restore the victims (broadly defined, including the families and community) materially and psychologically, whereas the conventional justice system focuses on the offender by using punishment and other retributive methods.
3. Restorative justice addresses the emotional and psychological needs of the victim, the family members and the community by creating opportunities for them to express their emotions and to confront the offender in a safe and controlled environment. The interactive communications also include the rebuttal of the offender's denial or attempt for rationalization for the crime. Consequently, the offender experiences feelings of shame regarding the offenses, accepts responsibility, sincerely apologizes, and develops commitment for change. The conventional justice process, however, does not address these psychological issues and does not believe that interpersonal interactions can change the offender. Does anyone know why about 60% convicted offenders re-offend within three years after serving time in prison? Although there are many factors influencing the result, one of the obvious reasons is that the punishment offender received does not help modify his/her distorted cognitions of social reality and does not address the emotional wounds.
If restorative justice could be used to handle Casey Anthony's crime, the most suitable modality would be the community based practice for conflict resolution or community conferencing, which involves the offender, the family members and community members with one or two mental health professionals as the facilitators.
What are the major issues if restorative justice could be applied to Casey Anthony? I think the following issues need to be included:
a) Her feeling toward her daughter Caylee Anthony, including her death.
b) The emotional reactions of the family and community members to the death.
c) Casey's relationships with her mother and father, including the issues of the alleged sexual abuse, jealousy and other dysfunctions.
In essence, effective restorative justice shares some commonality with therapeutic group processes in that it uses human interactions to assess and deal with the participants' psychological needs. The trial of Casey Anthony reveals that the prosecutor, defense lawyer, witnesses, judge and jurors are not the only players who can mete out justice, because it is the psychological mechanisms (cognition, emotions, and motivation) and human relationships that regulate people's actions and serve as a determinant of justice.