We believe that in the field of corrections, those methods are best that enable released offenders to resume, or perhaps begin for the first time, ordered, law-abiding, productive lives. We also think it is healthy for offenders to face their victims, to hear how their actions have harmed others and to realize that the harm extends beyond the individual(s) accusing them to the offender’s own family and peers — indeed, their whole community. And it is important that offenders have the opportunity to repair the harm they have done, in a way that has meaning for the community that has been harmed.

What we are talking about is not some theory of criminal justice, and it certainly isn’t being soft on offenders. These ideas have been put into practice successfully for the last five years by the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast. In programs for confirmed criminals, first-timers and juveniles, RJP has shown that restorative justice works, because it allows offenders to “be human,” in the words of one RJP staffer.

The approach views criminals as members of the community who have made mistakes. To repair the damage done to the community, the philosophy says, the offender must be encouraged to feel remorse, and there must be reconciliation between the offender and the victim. To achieve this, offenders and victims are brought together in mediated “circles.” The offender is also paired with a mentor, much the same as someone recovering from drug addiction.

Margaret Micolichek, executive director of RJP, can also cite impressive statistics about her program’s effectiveness at reducing problems from school detentions to recidivism at the county jail. As Micolichek said at RJP’s recent anniversary celebration, “These individuals [offenders] belong in our community. They are part of our community. They need to be connected,” she said. “We can’t keep sending people away and expecting them to come back with changes in behavior and fit in if we don’t welcome them back.”

We wish RJP continued success at helping offenders find their way back into their communities.