I spent my 21st birthday inside a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania, on a field trip for a criminal justice course I took during my senior year at Eastern Mennonite University. It was taught by Howard Zehr, who pretty much founded restorative justice as an academic field. Earlier in the semester, I also had my first opportunity to watch proceedings at our General District Court downtown. I remember being pretty confused as to what was actually occurring in the courtroom, which, looking back, was a nice little personal introduction to our extremely confusing and convoluted justice system.
Anyhow, at the second listening session held last month in Harrisonburg on the issue of our increasingly crowded jail, I was surprised how many people used the term “restorative justice” in their pleas that we not simply build a bigger jail. Afterwards, I dropped in on Howard, who lives in Broadway and now co-directs the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice at EMU, to talk about jail crowding, local corrections and restorative justice as it pertains to our present situation.