Restorative Justice: Where are we now and where are we going? Getting real.
from Christa Pierpont's article reprinted with permission from Restorative and Criminal Justice News and the Association for Conflict Resolution, www.ACRnet.org:
With the March 3 release of One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections in the wake of our current economic woes, many of those who work in our community's trenches are relishing the bittersweet moment as we utter, “I told you so”. Thirty years of struggling to control the impacts of rapid social migration, challenges to family structures, and the media's overriding influence, our nation has supported increasingly invasive punishments or wildly permissive privileges and excuses. And it should come as no surprise that the punishments have been disproportionately visited upon our most challenged populations.
As we look at the potential inherent in restorative justice to bring people to their senses in actively responsible ways—will this be done while also taking the time to address the structural harms we've incurred through unprecedented levels of social exclusion? Social exclusions that begin at pre-school, follow up through failure to graduate from school with marketable skills, into our courts and prisons, then aggravated by the continual lack of support for re-entry strategies that bring people back into the community prepared to support themselves and others in meaningful ways. While across town in an up-scale neighborhood another person undermines their colleagues' ability to support themselves and their family but is not held to account because they can afford to get away with it. Our current investment in justice leaves many of us cynical and frustrated. We are weary of adding new layers of unfunded mandates and increasing penalties to increase our neighbor's chances of having their daily lives better protected. A recent statement at our state's General Assembly session brought waves of self-conscious laughter when one representative commented that they were not aware that there were any misdemeanors left but they were all now classified as felonies.
....Decades of over reliance on exclusionary public policies when addressing social harms has created increasingly unstable communities that act like a self-fulfilling drama of poverty and hopelessness.
Given current economic conditions, this vortex of anti-social behaviors is likely to increase the likelihood of greater harms as people find fewer avenues for getting their basic needs met.
Resentment over the disparity between those who can get their needs met and those who can not will make securing basic safety challenging.
Credible research and models of community justice already exist; as well as the positive effects of whole school adoptions of restorative practices to improve school climate and reduce reliance on exclusionary disciplinary policies.
What is lacking are the infrastructure development funds to allow already stretched community resources to strategically develop how agencies and non-profits can coordinate with one another to better serve their community through the coordinated adoption of restorative justice's best practices.
As this funding and leadership is available to establish broad range models, there needs to be an intentional effort to promote restorative justice from the experiences of multicultural voices who represent their community's interests and not just the images of those who have traditionally maintained government sponsored controls over others.
Read the whole article.