But the rub is, punishment is nowhere seen in this process—unless, when you have harmed someone, you consider listening to them express their pain to be punishment, rather than a chance to develop empathy for them, see yourself in a different light, and learn and change in whatever way you now perceive is needed. Some consider that process tougher even than receiving punishment. Others think it’s being “soft on crime.”
Can a justice movement not based on punishment grow fast enough to win at the ballot box, even in an über-liberal city? In September the New York Times noted that “Restorative justice has long had proponents in some corners of the criminal justice system, but it is now gaining prominence in an unlikely forum: the San Francisco district attorney’s race.” We go to press too soon to know the result.
Or will restorative justice appeal more to small-government and traditional-values conservatives? Some of its elements do appeal to the Right, others to reformist liberals, others to radicals, including prison abolitionists. Of course, there are also elements that each of these players may dislike or hate. And no one will resist it more than the prison-industrial complex and the politicians in its pockets.
How it is presented by the media will be critical, but perhaps not decisive: it is how well it works in practice, in those places innovative enough to fund it, that will likely be decisive.