Author is Robert Heskett, executive director of Family Nonviolence, Inc., a non-profit group in Fairhaven.
According to the report in The Standard-Times on May 18, Matt Marujo, the subject of the assault, said that he was relieved that there was closure “but disappointed that it had to come in a courtroom.”
As executive director of Family Nonviolence Inc., I agree wholeheartedly with many of the statements quoted in the article.
Steven Marujo, Matt’s father, said, “It could have been handled 100 times better.” Matt himself said, “All we said was, ‘We just want a meeting. We want a meeting so that we can talk. “Â¦ I’m not going to make a big deal out of this.'”
Perhaps this sad incident and the sad way it was handled is a means of helping us recognize the dynamics of the criminal justice system. When a crime is committed, the person or persons who are the object of the crime, who are robbed or assaulted or have their property vandalized, are important to the criminal justice system as witnesses for the prosecution.
In our system, the real “victim” is the state, which takes charge of the process to find the evidence to convict the perpetrator. When the persons who have been victimized can be helpful to the prosecution, then their input is important; when it is not needed because the evidence is so substantial that prosecution can proceed without their involvement, then their help is not needed.
Because this is the way the criminal justice system works (and having it work properly is essential for our society), we can understand the complaint that the needs of the real victim and his family were not considered. That is the way that things go.
In the responses to the resolution of this incident, Matt Marujo and his parents have pointed to the need for a better way of coming to a resolution of this affair. There is in fact a better way to provide justice that exists in our world, although it is not yet in place in our area. The better way is “restorative justice.”
There will always be a need for law enforcement at every level, especially to deal with the most serious offenders. But what about the crimes that do not involve homicide or sociopathic perpetrators? Could there be other ways to do justice apart from the criminal justice system?
Some of the types of restorative justice strategies are victim-offender mediation, group conferencing, circle sentencing, peacemaking circles, reparative probation and community boards and panels.
Restorative justice has been evolving over hundreds of years in some places in the world, notably in native indigenous communities, and is becoming accepted in most Western countries, including the United States. It is being promoted by the United Nations, which publishes a handbook on restorative justice programs.
Programs are found in at least 300 communities in the United States, including these communities in Massachusetts: Amherst, Boston, Brockton, Brookline, Cambridge, Fitchburg, Framingham, Greenfield, Lowell, Quincy, Springfield, and Worcester. Restorative justice is not a “one size fits all” program.
According to the United Nations handbook, there are four critical ingredients for a fully restorative process: (1) an identifiable victim, (2) voluntary participation by the victim, (3) an offender who accepts responsibility for his/her criminal behavior, and (4) voluntary participation by the offender.
“The goal,” the handbook says, “is to create a non-adversarial, non-threatening environment in which the interests and needs of the victim, the offender, the community and society can be addressed.”
In this hazing incident, the four criteria have been fulfilled. By using restorative justice to deal with this incident and with similar incidents, there would be the possibility of “restoring” the relationships within the football team, making it possible that Matt could have remained at Fairhaven High, in providing some degree of confidentiality to those in the process.
Family Nonviolence Inc. and the New Bedford Friends Meeting have established a Restorative Justice Task Force that is committed to seeking a way that we in this area might utilize the wisdom and experience of those who have found restorative justice to be a way of justice that promotes healing and reconciliation, not punishment, a way to look to the future and not focus on what happened in the past.
For information on restorative justice, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 996-1100.