By Roberta Ward
Father Michael Carson, former pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, San Jose, is now working full time in Restorative Justice ministry for the Diocese of San Jose. He has been involved in jail ministry for several years along with his previous parish responsibilities.
He describes Restorative Justice as “a broad umbrella” which supports both victims and perpetrators of crimes. “We advocate for both,” he said, especially with prayer vigils for victims and by advocating healing for victims, perpetrators and the whole community. Those are basic principles of Restorative Justice.”
It is not just about prisons and incarceration, Father Carson explained, or just looking at the perpetrator to be punished. “We teach kids how to transform their lives. I tell youth in juvenile hall that God has a plan for them. Some of these kids have institutionalized their brains and we have to help them to get out of that ‘institution.’”
He works with youth mentoring organizations in which young people are brought together in groups through a project at Santa Clara University. “This has been very helpful,” he said. “We have a community partnership with SCU and our diocesan Office for Youth Ministry is part of that.”
He said, “We need more mentors; we provide the training, and we
also work with the SCU Law School. We are also aligned with SCU in anti-death penalty efforts. In fact, this is headquarters in California for this work.”
Father Carson explained that 86 percent of youth in juvenile hall have no father in their lives – they have left the family, died, or are in prison themselves. “It costs $47,000 a year to keep a person in prison for a year in Santa Clara County,” he said.
The Diocese of San Jose has a Justice Board which meets monthly and engages people in discussion with symposiums and mentoring on Restorative Justice themes.
“Restorative Justice works,” Father Carson stressed. “The criminal justice system is about crime and punishment. Restorative Justice is about who has been hurt and how to heal relationships.
“In Restorative Justice, the victim is central and his/her needs are met. Part of that is working to reduce crime, which includes treatment for drug addicts and other addictions, and helping people to deal with personal problems that cause them to make wrong choices.”
Father Carson said, “Restorative Justice views incarceration as a last resort. Many jails are overcrowded and can only provide punishment” -- incarceration only.
He also noted the disproportionate numbers of Hispanic and African-American youths who are incarcerated.