Magazine article Insight on the News

New Faith in Justice

Magazine article Insight on the News

New Faith in Justice

Article excerpt

A faith-based approach to crime is gaining credence in criminal-justice circles. Advocates for `restorative justice' say the approach lets offenders and victims make peace with each other.

For more than 14 years, Houston mother Arna Washington hated the words "Ron Flowers" -- the name of the man who shot and killed her talented, vivacious 26-year-old daughter Deirdra as she sat in a car in a parking lot. But a few months ago, through a fledgling concept called "restorative justice," these two people forged a new relationship. It brings peace to both of them.

Faith-based restorative justice is a better way to deal with crime, according to Charles W. Colson, head of Prison Fellowship Ministries and its subsidiary, Justice Fellowship. Crime is "a moral problem, caused by moral failures, and to deal intelligently with it you must provide a moral response" says Colson, a former Nixon White House official who went to prison 25 years ago over the Watergate scandal. Real justice should heal victims' wounds and inspire personal turnabouts within offenders so that they will not commit crimes again.

Washington, a woman who never missed a chance to argue against Flowers' parole, would not have agreed with Colson a year ago, when Flowers was scheduled for mandatory release. He had joined the Sycamore Tree pre-release program, which brings together crime victims and inmates to talk about crime, restitution, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Flowers, who came from a troubled home, received an intensive education about right and wrong, sin and salvation. One of his mentors was Washington's pastor, the Rev. Homer Williams, who encouraged Flowers to write to Washington. But the letter contained "no remorse" says Washington, and "had nothing to touch the heart of a mother of a murdered daughter." Rather, she wrote back and told him of her agony over her daughter's death and the subsequent deaths of her son and husband, which she attributed to heartbreak. "We had a happy, whole family" Washington wrote. "By 1994, my family was gone."

Washington received a second letter, this time from a "changed man." Flowers wanted to meet to tell her what happened that night, and she agreed. "I wasn't ready to forgive," recalls Washington. "I just wanted to know what happened that night. I wanted closure."

When she met Flowers at the prison, he walked in clutching a Bible. He explained how there had been an altercation with Deirdra's date and shots were fired indiscriminately. "I never meant to hurt your daughter" he choked. …

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