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Restorative justice attractive to Anabaptist youth

Gabe Schlabach
February 26, 2008

WASHINGTON – Anabaptist youth from across the United States contributed again this year to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington Office high school essay contest. Although the possible essay topics included the conflict in Sudan, the impact of U.S. trade policy on immigration and the 2008 presidential election, restorative justice garnered the most interest.

The yearly contest is open to high school students from MCC constituent denominations, as well as students attending Mennonite high schools. This year the Washington Office evaluated the essays of 17 finalists.

All three winning essays addressed restorative justice, a system of justice that focuses on the harms done by misconduct and the actions needed to heal victims of crime, offenders and the communities that surround them.

Daniel Gingerich of Bethany Christian High School in Goshen, Ind., wrote the winning essay: “Planting Restorative Justice at the Grassroots.” Gingerich argued that restorative justice should be implemented from the bottom-up, since the U.S. legal system is unlikely to change quickly. He suggested starting in schools, since “we can instill the values of restorative justice in children [who] will carry those values with them throughout their lives.”

Simone Sommers and Emily Bowman, who also attend Bethany, took second and third place. They argued that the U.S. criminal justice system should find the proper balance between restorative justice and the current framework.

“If the two sides of the scale are balanced, a justice system is created that sees the crime that was committed and delivers punishment accordingly, but also sees the person who committed the crime and grants compassion accordingly,” Sommers stated.

Bowman suggested that a well-functioning justice system behaves like a parent. “It encourages and reprimands in love, always leaving the possibility of redemption available.”

Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, co-director of the MCC Office on Justice and Peacebuilding, was excited by young people’s interest in restorative justice and sees that interest as a challenge. “We [must] seek ways to create spaces for dialogue on difficult issues, find collaborative ways to address needs and obligations brought about by harm and demonstrate our commitment to justice by living out our calling to biblical justice.”