Restorative Justice

Since attending the police victim services conference in British Columbia I’ve been thinking a lot about a presentation I attended given by Katy Hutchison. In 1997, Katy’s husband, Bob McIntosh died following an alcohol-fuelled attack by two young men after he went to check on a rowdy New Year’s Eve party at the home of a friend who was on vacation. McIntosh was kicked in the head four times by 25-year-old Ryan Aldridge . One of the blows severed an artery in the back of the 40-year-old lawyer’s head. McIntosh was rushed to hospital, but pronounced dead almost immediately. Aldridge eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is currently serving a five-year sentence.

Katy Hutchison has turned her husband’s death into a story of hope and inspiration. The Story of Bob, is an-hour-and-a-half presentation given by Katy, primarily to elementary and secondary school students across Canada. Delivered as a rapid-fire slide presentation, The Story of Bob is part tribute to Katy’s former husband and part cautionary tale to young adults about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Most interesting is the sub-plot concerning the relationship that has developed between Katy and Ryan Aldridge, the man responsible for Bob’s death. Katy has since forgiven her husband’s killer. The two have met on several occasions, and Ryan Aldridge has expressed deep remorse for his actions. It is Katy’s hope that when Ryan is release from prison, the two may present The Story Of Bob together.

I find the story of Bob, Katy and Ryan deeply moving. I also find it confusing and troubling. At times it gives me great comfort and hope. Other times I am intensely mistrustful and suspicious of this story of reconciliation. Coming home on the plane from Vancouver I thought about this idea of forgiving the offender a lot. Then the passenger seated next to me handed me his copy of Rolling Stone, and there the idea was again,

Forgiving the Murderer

Walter Everett looked his son’s killer in the eye and tried to understand him

Walter Everett, a Methodist minister from Hartford, Connecticut, eventually came face-to-face with Mike Carlucci, the man responsible for the murder of his 19-year-old son, and forgave him.

So I wonder if I would have the same ability. Could I forgive the person that murdered my sister? I would like to think I could, but I don’t know yet. There are too many unknowns; I don’t know the person, I don’t know the circumstances. At best, I can say that the prospect of restorative justice is an intriguing option for rehabilitation, but it is also a deeply personal choice that should always be left to each individual victim – I am weary of attempts to institutionalize the process.

Restorative justice is a system of rehabilitation whereby victims, offenders and communities are brought together in an attempt to “restore” the wounds brought about by criminal behavior. It’s easy to see why this movement has greater clout in Canada than the U.S. – in the States an offender can be handed a very real life sentence, they may even have their lives terminated, in Canada there is always the reality that the offender, eventually, is coming back into society, so communities better get used to that idea and deal with it. Many restorative justice programs involve victim / offender mediation, where the two sides get together and work out their differences, or express their mutual grief. It all sounds like real bleeding-heart stuff, and many critics voice concerns that restorative justice is soft on criminals and their actions.

Yet, if I am one of those critics, I must confess I am also an idealist at heart and want to believe so much that a program like this could work. But I am left with so many questions. Ryan Aldridge and Mike Carlucci were one time offenders; they murdered, felt great remorse for their actions, and – as of yet – have not offended again. But what of a serial rapist or multiple murderer? Does restorative justice work in those instances? What about a terrorist, where their motives are political? If I discovered that my sister was murdered by a serial offender, there is the possibility that I might forgive them for that action, but I doubt my meeting them might have a positive effect toward their rehabilitation.

I’m still tossing this one around folks. As such, I’d be interested in your comments and experiences.

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