Have you wondered why our criminal justice system is in disarray, why our criminals are not being transformed, why we continue to fill prisons and reform few, and why the justice system fails miserably in delivering justice at all?

I have as well, but in my journeys I have been able to recently see it another way. In late July, I was able to make a special trip to a special city that knows not of such a failing system.

July was quite a busy month - I led a well-attended weekend forgiveness course, spoke at the Leavenworth Prison, and - as stated before - I was blessed to visit the city of Hull in northeast England. This is the only city in the known world committed to run entirely on the principles of Restorative Justice. These are principles different than the punitive system we presently practice - with rulings of "guilty" and "not guilty," and punishments in the form of fines and incarcerations. My visit to this magical city was memorable and in total sync with my beliefs to create a crime-free and violence-free society. Hull has no gangs and zero gun-related violence, and this is in a city with a population over 300,000. They are well on the way to create a totally safe city.

On my visit to Hull I was touched by the commitment of all the professionals to espouse the principles of Restorative Justice. Even the children ages up to five practice these principles in which everyone is restored. It was an eye-opener for me to see the passion and enthusiasm in all the staff and caregivers. This is the opposite of what you experience in detention centers that run on the punitive systems.

So what is their secret?

It's called Restorative Justice (RJ). To understand RJ you first need to understand our current criminal system. As the early Pilgrims arrived at the colonies from Europe, our criminal code and laws were based on European law. Most of Europe - run by a monarchy king or queen who owned both the land and the people - held crimes as being against the King or the Queen. Since we in the USA are not run by a monarchy, the State takes on that role. So in the case involving my murdered son, it was the State of California vs Tony Hicks. RJ argues that crime is committed in the context of community, and the State cannot be a party to the judicial process. It can act as a facilitator but not a direct party. In every offense, the direct parties are:
1. The victim
2. The offender
3. The community

In this system, justice is not met until the following goals are fully achieved:
(a) The victim must be made whole. In my case this is a difficult order, because you cannot bring Tariq back to our family. But working with Tony (the murderer) or Ples (Tony's grandfather) does restore my family in a sense, helping to make Tariq's death meaningful, as less and less kids are ending up in gangs, in prison or dead.
(b) The offender must be returned to society as a functioning and contributing member of society. Tony has been restored as he is an integral part of our story, and we use his testimony in the programs offered to schools by TKF (Tariq Khamisa Foundation). In fact TKF employs several ex-convicts as employees and panelists in our assembly. They are all very committed to the kids and their choices to NOT follow their criminal patterns.
(c) Lastly, the community must be healed. TKF is active in our schools and through extensive speaking engagements and writing so that our community is healed and transforming.

I personally believe in every crime there is an opportunity to improve society. That will never happen in our current criminal justice practice. However, if we shift to the principals of Restorative Justice as done in Hull, England, we can create a better society and a crime-free life. What we need is empathy and compassion. We need less judgment and punitive mindsets. It can only help to transform our "criminals" into contributing society members; it can only bring us more peace in our neighborhoods; it can only bring not a punishing system but a system that restores us all into wholeness.

Hull, England has shown me that it can be done.

Author's Bio: 

Azim Khamisa is an inspiration. Hailed by dignitaries such as the Dalai Lama, Former President Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Azim carries his inspirational message of forgiveness, peace and hope into a world in desperate need of each. Following the loss of his only son Tariq in 1995 to a senseless, gang-related murder, Azim chose the path of forgiveness and compassion rather than revenge and bitterness, and this amazing choice led to the establishment of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (www.TKF.org) and the subsequent forgiveness movement which has reached millions.
Website: www.AzimKhamisa.com