More on Restorative Justice

Today a girlfriend said, people are never going to operate from a place of love 100% of the time. I agree. But societally and individually, we could strive for it more often, yes? We can choose compassion over fear and closure. We can choose restoration and transformation over revenge.

If there’s a reaction to every action, what happens when every choice is a punitive, vengeful one? How can we break the chain of spite? I think about this quite a bit, but it’s pretty theoretical. What does it look like to make such choices? This is where the idea of restorative justice comes into play.

“Restorative justice recognizes that crime hurts everyone – victims, offenders and community. It creates an obligation to make things right.”

For many, the righting of things involves a violent response – be it in word, thought or deed. Imagining more ways of righting things becomes the work of restoration.

Restorative justice does not privilege one voice (survivors) at the expense of the others (community members, offenders). It encourages a union or exchange of voices, and action steps that encourage healing.

“Three hallmarks of restorative justice are encounters between victims and offenders, the obligation to repair harm, and the expectation that transformation may take place.”

All parts are critical, and are well-suited as a way of building the caring community required to make decarceration and excarceration viable options. It’s a great example of praxis: engaged theory and practice. It’s not just a way of thinking about things, but also a way of doing things.

Importantly for me, it’s a theory grounded in the transformative potential of people and circumstances. It assumes that people have agency. People can make choices that result in hurt, but that those same people have the capacity to make choices that move toward healing. Similarly, survivors may have been wounded by offenders, but survivors have the opportunity to move toward wholeness. In both cases, people are viewed as fully human, endowed with the ability to grow and evolve.

This sort of primary belief – in the ability of people to change – seems absent from criminal justice discourse. The focus is on punishment: round them up! Get those {insert derogatory word} off the streets. But where is the healing in that? For the survivors? For the offenders? For the community?

It bears repeating: we have to start from a place of love. Believing that all people are indeed fully human is a radical act. But it’s an act grounded in love.

Restorative Justice and the Caring Community | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

I’m at a conference, so I’m on and off the grid this weekend. While traveling, I had a short, but productive bout of writing-as-thinking. I decided not to push myself to finish either of the two pieces I started, but they are definitely seeds, firmly planted.

One of the pieces was a follow-up to my post on a caring community. Even now, I’m still thinking about it. It all goes back to love, methinks. I sometimes wonder why love is such a revolutionary act. But why wouldn’t it be? We are submerged in a world of violence. We see violent images on our televisions. We use violent language with people we love. Sing songs with violent lyrics. Think violent thoughts. Send violent energy with looks and gestures.

And then we are surprised when violence appears in more tangible forms. We demonize the perpetrators for choosing violence. For succumbing to violence. For mirroring it.

My statement is not meant to absolve aggressors of their responsibility. I simply would like us, as a community, to acknowledge our complicity.

I believe much begins with a theory and practice of love. I wonder if we can ponder such a thing, rather than dismiss it out of hand. After all, where have hardened hearts and an appetite for revenge gotten us?

That brings us again to the caring community. How to we go about creating it? Or how do we enlarge the caring spaces that exist? Mikhail posed a question this afternoon:

Do abolitionists have an alternative vision for how to respond to harmful behavior? That’s what restorative justice does.

As a newbie, I cannot speak for the community of abolitionists. I’m still investigating at this point. But the idea of restorative justice holds promise:

I will continue to share as I continue to learn.

The Caring Community | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

As a new abolitionist, I often imagine the reasons people might oppose abolition. I hear all the why nots they silently levy. I compose responses to these imaginary rebukes, and in so doing, I look to established abolitionists for guidance.

In Instead of Prisons, the authors note several questions abolitionists confront. Two stand out:

  • What do we do about those who pose “a danger” to society? Don’t we have to solve that problem before we can advocate the abolition of prisons?
  • How can we work for needed prison reforms which require structural change within the society, before a new social order comes about?

Two assumptions seem to underlie these questions. Firstly, we can only work on one thing at a time, and after the attainment of a perfect solution, can we attempt something else. Secondly, abolitionists advocate a thoughtless and rash process by which prisons are torn down and people run, pell-mell, to freedom.

Both of these ideas are false. As explained in the attrition model, abolition is a long-term goal with several allied processes:

  • gradually reduce the current inmate population beginning with extreme sentences,
  • reconsider criminality and decriminalize certain behaviors, and
  • develop alternatives to imprisonment (mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, etc.).

There is little in this explanation about the human rights issues prisoners face. This is purposeful. The abolitionist’s goal is not simply to make prison more humane, but to stop caging except when there is absolutely no viable alternative. I want to state clearly, 2.3 million people behind bars should not suffer cruel and unusual punishment. And I do not see a conflict between supporting human rights and working to abolish prisons. However:

Our goal is to replace prison, not improve it.

But one does not dismantle a prison system without a corresponding change in the societal status quo. Society is as sick as the individuals who often wind up exiled from it. That brings us to a topic of personal import: creating a caring community. Drawing from my Buddhist leanings, I believe this to be the most difficult and simultaneously most important part of a successful abolition strategy.

From the handbook:

Abolitionists advocate maximum amounts of caring for all people (including the victims of crime) and minimum intervention in the lives of all people, including lawbreakers. In the minds of some, this may pose a paradox, but not for us, because we examine the underlying causes of crime and seek new responses to build a safer community. The abolitionist ideology is based on economic and social justice for all, concern for all victims, and reconciliation within a caring community.

How do we begin to create a caring community? Is such a utopia possible?