The assumption of rehabilitation is, “since this person has certain shortcomings, we can fix them with therapy, education, training, etc.“ Depending on the nature of the rehabilitation, that approach can help, but often it is a matter of “We are trying to make you more like us. We are trying to make you fit into the sick society we have created.” To that extent rehabilitation is very limited.
So the true healing from harmful acts involves the person who did the fraud or the murder talking to the people who they hurt, and the people they hurt are telling them, “This is what happened in my life because of what you did.” And the criminal is saying, “This is how I came to do this … and I really don’t like the fact that I created these effects on you and I am very sorry I did it.” Or if they are not sorry, they stay clammed up and little healing happens. The more honest and openhearted the communications can be, the more healing can happen. But you want to include at least the victim(s) and the offender(s). If you can involve people from the community, all the better.
Usually in the United States, the state steps in. So if there was a murder, and the family of the murdered person has been hurt by that – as well, of course, as the person who was murdered – the state is there as the accuser. “You have violated the laws and we, the state, will judge you.” The people who were impacted by the crime are set aside. They may sometimes be able to say something during the trial, but they are basically set aside from the full process that is going on to handle the crime.
So this is a different idea that what really needs to happen is a meeting of minds and hearts and souls between victim, offender and community. (Very often there’s no victim, as when somebody is put in jail for having an ounce of pot.) If someone, an offender, has done a damaging act, then we ask what kind of amends can be offered; what can be done to make up for that fact. “I harmed you, and now I am going to help you. I am going to do something. Although it may or may not be something that actually rises to the occasion and balances out what I did, I’m trying to put something on the other part of the scale of balance and justice to make up for what I did.”
In some cases it is a whole society that needs to do that, as in cases of crimes against humanity, crimes of genocide – for example, American society’s crimes of slavery and murder of Native American indigenous tribal peoples. That’s true for lots of places around the world, but I am most familiar with the American story.
This often involves a sense that there needs to be some kind of amends. There is a demand for reparations from black communities for slavery. It is so important to get it that the overwhelming number of African-Americans in the U.S. have ancestors who were forcibly brought to the United States to work as slaves, usually for white people. That past has left all kinds of residues in both black people and in white people, and in the larger society which has continued to practice racist actions and pursue racist policies that harm or disadvantage black people. So the idea is that America could try to make up for that in some way. There needs to be an active exploration of what ways would make sense to provide support and positive help for people who have as a class been harmed and held back. And in the process of asking what would make sense in this regard, a lot of both distant and recent history and current conditions and dynamics would be raised up for learning and action by the whole society.
Having a society take responsibility for systemic injustice is quite amazing. That happened in Germany. Although it took years and was very controversial in both Germany and Israel, Germany took major responsibility for the Holocaust, including millions of dollars of reparations to Israel. There are a lot of German officials and ordinary people who did take responsibility, even while there are many Germans who haven’t. But it matters tremendously when a whole society decides, “This is important to attend to. This is important to apologize for. This is important to make amends for.” That has a very powerful healing influence.