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Nun, author to lecture on 'restorative justice'.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

For Sister Helen Prejean, it's about justice, not revenge.

Most people remember Prejean because the 1995 film "Dead Man Walking" told the story of her relationship with an inmate on death row and her opposition to capital punishment.

She'll be lecturing in Eugene on Friday at the University of Oregon Law School. Speaking by phone from her home in New Orleans, Prejean said recent headlines highlight the problem with the death penalty.

Iraqi courts recently tried and convicted former President Saddam Hussein and two other Iraqi leaders, sentencing them to death for crimes against humanity.

But their executions will fuel more violence as the Sunni Arabs, angry over the executions, retaliate against Shiites, who wield more power in the Iraqi government, Prejean said.

"And it's the same in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - all pro-Sunni countries," she said. "Egypt TV is now beginning to demonize Shias."

Prejean prefers the South African model. After decades of racial inequality that involved violence, torture and executions, the country came together through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where people could seek amnesty by confessing their crimes to victims.

"In the presence of the community, you must say what you did to people. You bring it out into the public arena," Prejean said. Those conversations interrupted the spiraling cycle of injustice and revenge, she said.

But seeking justice is more complicated than mere dialogue between those who have been harmed and those who have done wrong, she said.

It also means caring for victims, helping families who are grieving and mending the social cords that have been broken in a process Prejean refers to as restorative justice.

The number of people executed annually in the United States has decreased steadily since 1999, a change Prejean attributes to news reports of DNA evidence revealing surprising numbers of innocent people wrongly convicted.

That also may be why recent public opinion surveys show an increase in people expressing a preference for life-in-prison sentences instead of death sentences in murder cases.

"We're rejecting the notion that violence must be met with violence," she said.

Her lecture is sponsored by the University of Oregon law school's Conflict and Dispute Resolution master's degree program and the Northwest Institute of Conflict Resolution.

The UO master's program is relatively new, just two years old, and offers students an array of dispute resolution courses, presenting techniques that go beyond the standard court models, program director Tim Hicks said. He estimates that there are about 30 such programs at universities throughout the country, but just two affiliated with law schools.

"It was started by a group of faculty who recognized that legal recourse is one form of conflict resolution, and it's an important right, but it's often unsatisfactory," Hicks said.

Mediation - getting people to sit down and talk - is a valuable tool. "Just getting people to look at what the problems are and to clarify areas of agreement and disagreement can be useful," Hicks said.

In adversarial approaches, offenders proclaim their innocence. Restorative justice requires them to acknowledge their responsibility, Hicks said.

"Some people misunderstand it as letting the offender off too lightly. The offender has to take responsibility but in a context where there's human understanding, where the offender can learn and grow and make amends."

Conflict resolution works much better in cases that involve family disputes, such as divorce and child custody, Hicks said.

Where relationships are ongoing, people need less adversarial ways to work out their differences.

"It's a tired phrase, but what we're working on is win-win rather than win-lose. In an ongoing relationship if somebody wins and somebody loses, then both lose," he said.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN LECTURE Friday: 7 p.m., Room 175 of the Knight Law Center, University of Oregon, 1515 Agate St.; free and open to the public

Lecture title: "From Revenge to Reconciliation: Changing the Paradigm of Justice"

More about Prejean:

More about UO's dispute resolution program: .edu/org/adr
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Title Annotation:Arts & Literature; Sister Helen Prejean says recent headlines highlight ills with the death penalty
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 24, 2007
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