When Kim Foxx beat out the anti-Black Lives Matter State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez yesterday to become Chicagoland’s top prosecutor, she did so partly on a campaign that heavily touted restorative justice. Restorative justice is a practice whose time has come – and in this BLM period – is at hand. Any talk about police and prison reform that does not center on restorative justice is not true reform; it can only best serve as wasteful if not cynical.
Restorative justice is the practice of restoring people who have done wrong to themselves, their communities and – hopefully, but not always possible – to those they wronged. Restorative justice is a method of reducing and preventing violence by allowing people to own up to mistakes they have made and giving them opportunities to 1) make them right; 2) seek reconciliation; and 3) learn other methods to deal with and resolve conflict.
It is a way of restoring when mass incarceration is only concerned about destruction. Restorative justice is to peace-building what incarceral justice is to warmongering.
In incarceral justice – the practice of jailing and imprisoning those who have or are alleged to transgress the law – youth and young people are sent away from their communities and schools to be detained and punished. Nothing more. It has the double effect of removing young people from the communities and institutions that need their youth and people, and communities from the young people that need their grounding and care.
Incarceral justice unduly punishes and criminalizes black people for perceived infractions and doubles down on them in the name of restoring “safety”. It effectually depletes black communities of resources (including people) and then monetizes off of them – a core neoliberal principal.
Incarceral justice may lock up the abuser for a period of time, but then return that person back to the people, the families that they victimized without concern for the safety of those within their realm. It refuses to believe that there is a higher power than retribution, and so what to make of the person who abuses? That person ends up believing that the abuser position is theirs to live in indefinitely and that it is right to be in a state of perpetual retribution. Restorative justice instead looks at the options, and what is best for the family. It looks at people as people, rather than as simply abusers and abused, or husband and wife, or parent and child and seeks to restore the person who has done the abuse as well as the ones who have been abused. It seeks to protect them all through holistic steps, rather than merely warn, imprison, and finally send back the provocateur without safeguards for the family.
Incarceral justice practices from school detention* to solitary confinement and the death penalty target and destroy black, brown and poor families and communities. It eviscerates schools, students, and community institutions. It tells black, brown and poor kids that they cannot make mistakes, that the price of being human and black, brown, and/or poor is being held in captivity. And it gives them no options for what happens when they are faced with choices but to make more mistakes. It is a form of ‘justice’ where nothing is just, as there is no right, no way out but extreme nihilism.
Restorative justice gives hope to these same communities and families. Restorative justice puts the wrong-doer into the community with safeguards, with limitations, but says that there is hope. It gives the person who did wrong and the community in which they did the wrong the necessary space and tools to make corrections for past, present and future.
Restorative justice is also phenomenally cheaper in the long and short run than incarceral justice. Where the latter robs, the former invests. Where the latter costs the community in terms of housing and guards and beds – not to mention the human costs of depriving sun, soul, friendship and family from human beings – the latter allows the person to continue to hold their jobs, allows them to maintain familial relationships and nurturing they need to survive, and to give them tools to thrive, to manage conflicts with winning strategies, to make things right. Where incarceral justice takes human capital (workers, care providers, parents, renters, owners, students and scholars) and economic capital (fines, public funds, work hours) from the community, restorative justice incorporates and gives them the opportunity to improve, even.
Incarceral justice cannot make the wrongs into rights because all it does is punish and remove. It cannot give. It has no power to give, but only to take. Incarceral justice is by nature unjust.
Restorative justice gives power to the people. Restorative justice is people power. It is time to make restorative justice the central piece of criminal justice reform, perhaps of the American judicial system.
*One of the first steps of the school-to-prison pipeline
Random readings on Restorative Justice