Source: (2009) Dissertation. Doctor of Philosophy. Emory University.

Criminal and juvenile justice systems in the United States have reached a crisis point. Christian social ethicists and theologians have responded to this crisis in part by recommending “restorative justice,” a movement that involves a variety of sentencing practices in which victims, offenders, and community members meet to reach an agreement about how to “repair the harm” caused by crime. Advocates in a broader movement for restorative justice trace crises in our criminal and juvenile justice systems to the rehabilitative and retributive ideologies and practices that have dominated these systems. As a work of Christian social ethics, this dissertation explores restorative justice as an alternative to these ideologies and practices in terms of its specific type of “moral imagination” and its capacity to realize “justice as equity.” Drawing on Aristotle, modern virtue ethics, and recent works on moral imagination, the dissertation establishes the premise that the realization of justice as equity requires vivid and expansive moral imagining in our processes of ethical discernment. Furthermore, the quality of our moral imagining depends partially upon the narratives, metaphors, and symbols that compose the types of moral imagination that we use to organize our experiences. Our social, cultural, and institutional locations inform the types of moral imagination that we use, and thus the quality of our moral imagining. The dissertation analyzes the different types of moral imagination presupposed and supported by models of restorative, rehabilitative, and retributive justice. Through an ethnographic study of five restorative justice programs in Colorado, the dissertation then argues that as participants in restorative justice practices use and negotiate restorative, retributive, and rehabilitative moral imaginations in their processes of ethical discernment, they engage in activities of vivid and expansive moral imagining that are not supported in more common sentencing practices. Their facility with moral imagining therefore better enables them to realize justice as equity in response to particulars of specific cases of crime. The dissertation concludes that further institutionalization of restorative justice may help answer some aspects of crises in our criminal and juvenile justice systems. (Author's abstract).