In his recent opinion piece, “Cooper mutes the screams of victims,” Jim Longworth argues that Governor Cooper “muted the voices … of two innocent victims” by commuting the sentence of April Barber, a woman who had served 36 years in prison for murders she committed at the age of 15.
While I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Longworth’s assertion that the justice system often leaves victims behind, I believe that he focuses on the wrong solution. Rather than emphasizing punishing the perpetrator, we can instead ensure that victims are given the resources after a crime to recover.
Obviously nothing can return the lives of Lillie and Aaron Barber, but there are still many ways that Mrs. Barber could help restore the damage she did to her community. This approach to justice, referred to as restorative justice, allows for perpetrators to understand the harm their actions have caused and create plans to help victims. The Restoring Youth Coalition of North Carolina has set up several juvenile restorative justice programs in North Carolina, including one in the Triad.
The idea of ensuring that perpetrators of crimes make up for their actions through helping their victims and bettering their community can often ‘feel’ wrong and even disrespectful to victims. However, a 2017 DOJ funded analysis found victims ``experience a number of benefits and are more satisfied with [restorative justice] programs than traditional approaches to juvenile justice.” The report concludes these programs give victims an improved perception of fairness and greater satisfaction.