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.

Decarceration and Excarceration. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

Well, I would like to see, as Fay Honey Knopp, who was an abolitionist during the ’70s and the ’80s and one of the co-authors of a wonderful book called Instead of Prisons: An Abolitionist Handbook, you know, I would like to see an emphasis on decarceration, an emphasis on excarceration.
             Angela Davis on Democracy Now, October, 2010

I’m back in school. Quite honestly, as a lifelong learner, I’ve never left. As soon as I graduated, I created a syllabus of resources on black feminist thought, narrative inquiry and transformative learning and began reading. Studying these topics was nurturing and in many ways, freeing.

Love and curiosity have led me to study mass incarceration and abolition. My new syllabus is growing. A recurring name on it? Angela Davis. I’ve been listening to her speeches, taking notes on terms, people, events I should add to my resource list.

Decarceration and excarceration are each one point of a five-point model of attrition, elaborated in Instead of Prisons (1976). The attrition model is part of a long-range strategy for abolition. The overarching goal: to dismantle the prison system. Attrition, employed as a purposeful, intentional strategy, would “diminish the function and power of prisons in our society.”

The Attrition Model

  • Moratorium on new prison construction
  • Decarcerate
  • Excarcerate
  • Restraint of the few, via the “least restrictive and most humane option for the shortest period of time.”
  • Build a caring community in which support services are privileged over punitive options

Incarcerate means to confine or imprison. In contrast, decarcerate means to release. How can we begin to free some of the 2.3 million people behind bars? The authors suggest a realistic approach to the decarceration of inmates, including reduction in sentences, expanded opportunities for parole, creative restitution to victims, and decriminalization of some behaviors (applied retroactively).

Excarceration simply means avoid incarceration. In other words, what if prison ceased to be the first/ only/ mandatory response to certain behaviors? After all, what gets labeled crime is fluid. And the placement of various criminal behaviors along a continuum is somewhat arbitrary (more on that to come). What, other than jail, might be a response to undesirable behavior?

Thought Experiment
Are you open to decarceration? Would you be okay with nonviolent criminals being released before the end of their sentences? Why or why not?  If you say maybe, under what circumstances might you agree?