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A new Sunday night docuseries on CNN provides a look at something rarely seen in the justice system: moderated dialogues between victims and offenders through a system often known as restorative justice.
The Redemption Project includes a lot of neighborhood driving footage, historical photographs, and families describing the moment they learned of a crime that would wreck life as they knew it. But unlike many true-crime shows, this one shows no lawyers strategizing about how to spin a story for a jury. It also doesn’t dwell on the macabre details of each violent crime (mainly shootings and DUI incidents). Instead, Redemption Project offers long-term perspective on tragedy and healing.
One question hangs over each episode: Will the victim (or victim’s family) forgive the offender? They certainly don’t have to. The “punitive” justice system has already worked its will. In these cases, the participating offenders will continue to serve their jail time or live their lives regardless of how the dialogues go, so they don’t have to participate either. Each dialogue is entirely voluntary.
But as one participant says, “It’s hard work. It’s people telling truth about the hardest day of their lives.”
The show humanizes each party in a way that the American justice system often does not. Throughout the series, the victims star. But humanizing means telling the full story—including showing how victims, too, are flawed. In one episode, a bereaved mother admits to introducing her son to the drug life that eventually got him killed. In another, host Van Jones asks a white policeman about unconscious bias. The officer, who survived a gunshot to the throat by a black man, admits he’s ashamed of the “racial overtones” in his own perception.
One expert told WORLD in 2015 that, in some situations, ongoing relationships between victims and offenders can have a deterrent effect on future crime. Studies indicate that restorative justice programs curb recidivism rates. In that case, let’s hope Redemption Project sparks many more real-life conversations.