When Someone Has Betrayed Trust, How Deserved Is Restorative Justice?

On Election Day in 2015, Bridgeport, CT reelected it’s disgraced former Mayor, whom had gone to jail for seven years for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from those doing business with the City, to the Mayor’s Office.  Five years after leaving federal prison, he beat the incumbent Democratic Mayor in the primary to then go on and beat a fellow Democrat, who finished third in the Primary but ran as an Independent in the General Election, for the office. In some circles he’s now hailed as “the comeback kid.”

This scenario has some semblance of restorative justice. In restorative justice, one who has committed a crime or violation is rehabilitated to mend the harm that their shortcomings caused.  In essence, it repairs the needs of that offender.

When I first learned of restorative justice, it was in a classroom setting where we students were asked what we would do with an employee who had undermined the workplace, then betrayed colleagues, accusing them of causing the problem, after having dropped the ball in the work itself.

The majority of the class — myself included — stated there was no place for a person like that in the workplace and that they should be let go.

The instructor responded that that’s not always the best solution and that, sometimes, society is too quick to give up on those who have faulted in their capacities.

Honestly, this kind of threw me for a loop.  I can understand that chiding or punishing someone might only turn them off more, and away, from the mainstream establishment, so working to rehabilitate that offender makes sense as a different approach.

But my question with that approach wasn’t so much with regard to the offender.  They would be shown the right way to carry themselves and hopefully come back a better person and contributor to the workplace or society, depending on what the setting is we’re talking about.

My concern was always what kind of message this sends to those who stayed on the straight-and-narrow. If someone who is egregiously straying from the path is allowed to remain in the group with no repercussions, what is the incentive for others to keep working their hardest. This isn’t to say that we’re all working hard and ethically solely because we don’t want to go to jail, or be punished or banished.

I’m not even a strong conservative but restorative justice sounds a lot like Workplace Socialism—regardless of the circumstances, all will be able to achieve at least a minimum result for themselves.

To me, the utilization of restorative justice is sound and reasonable depending on the situation. I believe there should be consequences for our actions. So, depending on who you ask, someone like Ganim should not have been able to run for Mayor, especially in such an office where the well-being and prosperity of the constituency should come first.

Then the other side of me says he’s going to be watched like a hawk this time around. His detractors, specifically, and the citizens and media, in general, will be watching closely for that first slip-up which will remind everyone why he went to federal prison in the first place. (I could have said, “The other me believes he did his time and that prison rehabilitated him so that’s nothing to worry about.” Sorry, I’d rather err on the side of caution.)

And I think that’s the way it would be for any recipient of restorative justice. They’re going to be watched. They’re going to be held accountable. (What that ongoing accountability actually is when it comes to restorative justice is another conversation to be had. How long do you let it go if the person is re-offending?)

To me, the practice just seems to leave the law- and rule-abiding constituents in the dark.  You obeyed the rules and you played fair, but to the offender go the resources after their digressions and ignorance of those foundational structures by which you abided.

I’m not for one or the other. I think it depends on the situation. Again, I’m in the middle.

Can you see the other side of the argument?


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