Lawyer outlines how Durham can have restorative justice

Mar. 01, 2014 @ 05:46 PM

Lawyer Scott Holmes laid out his recommendations to the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham for how Durham police, the district attorney and community can foster restorative justice.
Holmes, who is a Quaker, spoke during the Religious Coalition’s monthly roundtable Thursday. Restorative justice is a term to describe justice beyond punishment, when those who commit the crime and those who are victims of crime meet in a circle atmosphere and discuss justice beyond what the law prescribes.
He asked the coalition to think about what it would look like if God was working on Durham’s issues.
“It would be a whole different process,” he said. Litigation is how society fixes things, he said, and the answer is always punishment.
“What about healing? What if the first question is, ‘How do we heal from this harm?’” Holmes asked. He talked about how children are punished but also told to say they are sorry.
He said a courtroom has two tables, each with lawyers, and the family sits in the back. Instead, he imagines circles that include police officers, judges, non-judges, someone to referee like RCND leader Marcia Owen, and someone to record what happened as well as the people involved. He said there should be lots of little meetings before the big meeting.
“Restorative justice” are new fancy words, Holmes said, but the circles are old “since people sat around a fire.” Circles wouldn’t be adversarial, but name the harm and offer a chance to say “sorry.”
“One conversation ain't gonna do it, but it’s a great starting place,” he said. Holmes said there can be more than just meetings – things like playback theater, the circle process and murals.
“In every church, library and school we can have these conversations. Every time there’s harm in the community,” he said.
Holmes suggested coalition members ask the current Durham district attorney candidates to stop incarceration for nonviolent offenders, divert children away from the court system, restore justice and victim advocates, and change the cultural relationship between the Durham Police Department and the Durham District Attorney’s Office.
For the community’s part, Holmes suggested they support increased funding for the Criminal Justice Resource Center, stop out-of-school suspensions, and fund restorative justice training, education and facilitation. He wants there to be a formal truth and reconciliation hearing on Durham issues of violence.
Effie Steele of RCND said that they need a band leader for a step-by-step process for what Holmes suggested.
“We need something to hitch our wagon on, because we’ve been talking about it for years,” she said.
The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham’s annual Vigil Against Violence will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Shepherds House United Methodist Church, 107 N. Driver St., Durham.  The vigil in the sanctuary will honor the 31 people whose lives ended in violence in Durham in 2013. For information, visit