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What does tranformative/restorative justice actually look like?

August 16, 2010

I understand that people want to have some sense of accountability for harm that was done. I often answer questions about the “bad people” by asking individuals whether they feel that every “bad” person is currently incarcerated.  If they say, no, I ask them if it is realistic to incapacitate every “bad” person on the planet.  In fact, what does it even mean to be a “bad” person?

Then I ask them to think about what factors determine who ends up behind bars.  This is intended to push people to acknowledge the fact that not every “crime” is punished and that certain groups always seem to be more of a target for punishment than others.  I point out that the majority of people who are incarcerated are non-violent offenders.  I tell them that if they would agree to release all of those people only then am I  willing to entertain their questions about the “bad” people.  

This serves as a way not to get bogged down in the endless discussion about whether “bad” people need to go to prison.  Once all of the non-violent prisoners are freed, I am confident that we would be able to make the case that prisons are in existence to mask our failure for addressing the root causes of oppression.  As such, more people would be freed still. We need to start opening the doors of the prisons and this necessitates deploying alternative approaches to addressing violence and crime.

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