This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 3/5/05,
Page A4, main news; Copyright 2005 by Beth David

Workshop explores alternative approach to criminal justice

Standard-Times correspondent

NEW BEDFORD -- A group of professionals and citizens gathered downtown yesterday to talk about a different way to deal with crime and conflict.

At least six representatives from the Bristol County Sheriff's Office attended the restorative justice workshop, as well as court representatives, educators, activists and interested citizens.

Interest in restorative justice, an approach to conflict that has respect at its core, has been renewed in the past 15 years, according to Carolyn Boyes-Watson, director of the Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice.

Restorative justice, Ms. Boyes-Watson said, asks three questions: What harm has been done and to whom? What needs to be done to repair harm? Who is responsible for repairing harm?

In restorative justice, the focus is on the harm done instead of state and laws; identifying needs and obligations instead of establishing guilt; and repairing harm instead of handing out punishment.

Yesterday's workshop was part of an ongoing effort by the Suffolk center to introduce these principles throughout Massachusetts.

"We're hoping to share the principles of restorative justice with professionals and citizens of New Bedford," Dr. Boyes-Watson said, "to give them the opportunity to see how this can be used in their own community, in schools, the courts, corrections, to deal with crime and conflict."

As a teacher of sociology, Dr. Boyes-Watson found that in her lessons about the criminal justice system, she "taught a lot about failure and not a lot about success."

She says that people in the community have a lot of wisdom but that institutions are not organized based on that wisdom. "They're not always in sync," she said.

Dr. Linda Galton, Westport's superintendent, says she is "taken aback" by the way punishment builds and never gets to a place "where the slate is clean."

"I see kids disconnected, I see kids at risk, where the parents do not support them," Dr. Galton said.

Ana Arruda from the sheriff's office says Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson is committed to seeking alternative solutions to crime.

Several other representatives of the sheriff's office attended to "listen and learn," find answers and make contacts.

Arthur Bennett is a retired teacher and member of the School Committee of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School. For four years he was an assistant principal, responsible for disciplining students.

"I definitely wish I had this as a tool," Mr. Bennett said. "You get very tired of seeing the same individual coming through the office again and again and again. It would've been a very valuable learning tool to get beneath the surface to see the harm that was caused."

This story appeared on Page A4 of The Standard-Times on March 5, 2005.