Justice as restoration of trust

“Restorative justice is a bold and thought-provoking innovation that has engaged the energies and excited the hopes of criminal justice reformers throughout the world over the last several decades.  And yet, while it has achieved outstanding results in thousands of programs, it has remained a marginal development because it has failed to articulate a theory and set of practice applicable to serious crimes and adult offenders.  Unless it can do so, it may very well remain on the sidelines, ‘doomed to irrelevance and marginality.’”

In this paragraph, which opens the last chapter of his new book, Crime, Punishment and Restorative Justice:  From the Margins to the Mainstream, Ross London – a former judge, prosecutor and public defender turned professor – accurately summarizes the state of the field.  Fortunately, he argues, it need not and should not remain in this state.

What restorative justice offers, he says, is not so much new justice practices but a different view of crime and a new goal for justice: crime is seen as a source of harm that must be repaired.  Moreover, the essential harm of crime is the loss of trust, on both interpersonal and social levels.  What victims and communities need is to have their trust restored.  The essential obligation of offenders is to show that they are trustworthy.  The purpose of justice should be to encourage this process.

The overriding goal of justice, then, ought to be the restoration of trust.  The attempt to achieve this on both personal and social levels, he argues, can provide a unifying umbrella for our response to crime. Rather than replacing other, more traditional goals, it would become the overriding consideration in sentencing, providing rationales for and limits to the application of goals such as incapacitation and punishment.

London provides a comprehensive analysis and application of his argument, exploring its socio-biological basis and how it addresses the needs of victims, offenders and society as a whole.   He discusses the role of apology, forgiveness, restitution, rehabilitation, victim-offender dialogues and punishment within this framework.

Punishment alone, he argues, “is an extraordinarily poor way of restoring trust, either in an offender or in society.”  However, it has an important restorative role for individuals and society if it is limited, accepted as deserved, and part of a larger strategy aimed at the restoration of trust and relationships.

Having himself played key roles in criminal justice, he recognizes justice’s ritual elements.  Criminal justice is, by and large, a ritual of exclusion, “a form of symbolic degradation that strips the offender of his membership in the moral community….”  But justice also has the potential to become a ritual of inclusion and restoration.

London’s argument is much too complex to summarize here.   Instead, let me emphasize two major points.  First, loss of trust is the fundamental harm of crime, and restoration of trust is a basic need.  In my experience, this rings true in the lives of victims, offenders and communities.

Second, by identifying restoration of trust as the overarching goal of justice, we might be able to provide a realistic and comprehensive theory of sentencing, for all levels of crime.    With restoration of trust as the primary goal, we might be able to refocus and incorporate the other widely-embraced and more usual goals of justice.

“The restoration of trust approach integrates conventional sentencing theories under the new goal of repairing the harm of crime that applies to all cases,” not just so-called “minor” crimes and cooperative offenders.  In this way, restorative justice might move from the margins to the mainstream and realize the potential that it offers.

This is a book worth reading. My primary disappointment is the price; at a list price of $75, it will not get the audience it deserves.   Now that the book is out, I restate a suggestion that I made to Ross when I read an earlier draft:  that he make his essential argument available in shorter, more accessible form so that it can stimulate the kind of dialogue that it needs.

Crime, Punishment, and Restorative Justice is published by FirstForum Press, a division of Lynne Rienner Publishers (2011).

February 8th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Restorative Justice)

Death of a mentor

Milton Rogovin died this month at the age of 101.  Although I only met him once, through his photographs and writing he has been one of my mentors.

1998 photo by Howard Zehr

As NPR noted in his obituary, Rogovin’s life was about seeing, though the methods changed.  He began his professional life helping others to see, as an optometrist in Buffalo, New York.  Because of his activist involvements for the poor, he was more or less forced out of his occupation by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.  As his patient base shrank, he began making photographs in the hopes of helping us to see the injustices around us and the people impacted by them.

Rogovin’s photographs were always about people, always about the rural and urban underclass.  One of his most important projects was close to home, in the economically depressed areas of Buffalo, though he also photographed in Chile, Yemeni and other countries.   “All my life, I’ve focused on the poor,” he said in a Washington Post quote.  “The rich ones have their own photographers.” He allowed people to pose themselves, always portraying them with dignity and individuality, not as victims.  His subjects were photographed straightforwardly, in their own environments.

Two of his books have had an especially significant influence on me.  The Forgotten Ones contains a variety of series of working people from around the world. My favorite, though, is “Working People, 1977-80.”  This photo essay is made of a series of diptychs.  On one page is a portrait of  individual workers in heavy industry, often mining, posed in their work environments.  On the facing page is a portrait of the same person at home.  The contrast is often dramatic; sometimes it takes a second look to realize they are the same people.  The pairing of these photos creates a much richer portrait than a single image.

Rogovin took the concept of paired images further in his book Triptychs:  Buffalo’s Lower West Side Revisited, expanding each grouping to three images made over several decades plus years.  After initially doing portraits in the 1970s, he returned to the community in the 1980s and again in the 1990’s, locating the same people and re-photographing them.  It is fascinating to see how people change, and don’t change, over the years.  This inspired my own small series of portraits over time, some of which can be seen on my photo website www.howardzehr.com.

In my interview with him, Rogovin said something that I identified with:  “Going from one series to another is a very difficult thing for me, and especially my wife.  I get kind of grumpy and worried that I’ll find another series that’s important.”  I too feel at lose ends when I don’t have a focus for my photography.

After finding that fancy equipment generated too much attention in his working environments, Rogovin adopted a simple, non-intrusive approach:  a Rolliflex medium format camera, often on a tripod, and a bare-bulb flash.

Do photographs change the world?  In The Forgotten Ones Rogovin says, “…I used to think that photography would do everything, but now I don’t think so.  It takes photography, it takes sociology, it takes working people, it takes teachers – and a lot of different people to help make the change. See, it isn’t just the photographs.”

He cites the early documentary photographer Jacob Riis: “Jacob Riis, when he was very despondent at the results he was getting, said he would go to a friend of his who was a stonecutter and he would watch him work.  The stonecutter would hammer that stone once, twice, ten times and nothing happened.  Fifty, a hundred times and nothing happened.  Then, after the hundred and first blow, the stone would split, and Riis said it was obvious that it wasn’t’ the last blow that did it.  It was all the blows together.  That’s my feeling.  It wasn’t the photographer – his or her photographs – that’s going to do it, but all the hundred and one different blows added together to make a change.”

This image has inspired my work in justice as well as photography.

January 25th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Photography)

The story is true

“Stories are the way we domesticate the world’s disorder.”

(Bruce Jackson, The Story is True)

My last entry emphasized the importance of story.  Since stories are essential to the experience of victims and offenders – and to all of us – I want to explore this topic a bit further here.

Our histories, our identities, our meanings for our lives are understood in and conveyed through our stories.  We often experience trauma when those stories are disrupted.  The process of transcending trauma requires us to “re-story” our lives.  This is true for those who are victimized but it is often true for those who offend as well.  As Shadd Maruna and Hans Toch’s suggest in Making Good, those who “desist” from offending behavior do so by re-storying their own lives in ways that preserve their self-respect and provide meaning for their new lives.

Judicial trials are also about story.  Jackson notes in The Story is True that trials are a competition between different ways to frame ambiguous material.  They are often more about winning more than about truth; the instrument is the development of a plausible story (p. 123).

Journalism – and especially television – presents events as stories; it utilizes stereotypical templates to impose a sense of order and completeness on information and the result is often incomplete and even misleading.

Jackson is an ethnographer who has done extensive work in prison and on death row.  He has used both still photography and film in this context.  Because of these interests, I have followed his work for years. (For researchers, and especially those working in prison, I also recommend his 1987 book, Fieldwork.)

Our lives, and most events, do not unfold in an orderly sequence. To make sense of them, to manage the disorder of the world, we create stories.   To quote one of Jackson’s students, “Our stories are the dots we use to connect the parts of our lives.”

Stories have to make sense, even when life often doesn’t. Like a photograph, stories are a way of framing things.  As with photographs, if we change the frame, a different story may emerge.

Our stories may or may not be true in a factual sense.  But unless we are involved in a forensic inquiry, what matters more in most cases are the meanings and perceptions they portray.

Jackson reminds us that our stories are created, then revised and fine-tuned over time, to serve various purposes:

  • Stories make sense and order of the world and of our identities. After significant events, including traumatic experiences, these stories may need to be revised.
  • Stories are told to fit the needs of the storyteller at a given time, needs that vary with the context: for example, we may want to court favor, present ourselves in a favorable light, bond with others, or help define who is “inside” and who is “outside.”
  • Stories are told to meet the needs of the listener or audience, so the listener is often part of the creative act.

Another factor shaping our stories is the nature of memory.  As I pointed out in an earlier entry (see Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Tavris & Aronson), our minds don’t like dissonance, so they tend to fill the gaps and create an order to things.  Some quotes from Jackson:  “Memory doesn’t like clutter.  It economizes….”  Memory is a process rather than a condition – “an artist, not a computer.”

Stories are important.  Are they “true?”  Jackson concludes that what is true is the fact that they are told, and that  they carry meaning for the teller.  I will end with a longer quotation:

“In time, how we tell our story depends not so much on what happened then, but on what we know of the world now.  And that is why the story of that time told in this moment means at least as much, and perhaps more, about this world now than that time then.  And that is why these stories we tell again and again remain forever new.” (p. 43)

January 6th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Photography, Restorative Justice)

Crossing the divide

In a recent blog entry, a conservative blogger in the United Kingdom calls for more attention to restorative justice.

Citing a speech by conservative MP Alan Duncan, the blogger suggests that restorative justice may be more than a way to reduce the revolving door or “carousel” of prison; indeed, it could have substantial benefits for both victims and offenders.  The blogger concludes that “It makes intuitive sense that many victims would benefit from Restorative Justice, but Duncan is making the interesting and important observation that offenders can also benefit.”

In his speech, MP Duncan embraced the idea that facing the victim has the potential to help the offender realize the impact of his or her offending:  “The hardened ex-offender who for the first time looks his elderly victim in the eye and sees her distress often finds it a challenge to remain hardened for long.”  “It’s very simple,” says Duncan:  “if I become the Prisons Minister, I will be a strong advocate and supporter of RJ.”

Duncan does not call for more punishment, more prisons.  In fact, he argues that “…the idea that on its own ‘prison works’ is unsophisticated and simplistic….  I want busy prisons, and I want a much more streamlined system to harness all efforts to assist the offender community.  RJ works – when it comes to victims, offenders, the community, and reducing reoffending, it works.”

It has often been my experience that restorative justice can span the conservative-liberal divide.  Concerns for victims and for reducing the costs of imprisonment are often common to both.  The concept of offenders facing up to what they have done makes intuitive sense to many.  Values such as responsibility, respect and relationship are often shared along the spectrum.  What we mean by these values and ideas, however, and what motivates us to embrace them, are crucial issues.

The lessons to be gleaned from the movement against indeterminate sentencing in the U.S. are instructive.  Eventually both progressives and conservatives came together to replace indeterminate sentences with determinate sentences motivated by a just deserts philosophy.  The resulting lengthened mandatory sentences dramatically increased the prison population.   While there was some confluence of policy positions, the underlying values and motivations of the various parties were quite different.  The results have been in many ways catastrophic.

Can a similar outcome be avoided with the restorative justice movement?  I don’t know the answer, but I do think the likelihood of such unintended consequences might be reduced if restorative justice can encourage a dialogue about our needs, obligations, values and goals.

One way to pursue this discussion might be by sharing our stories with one another. Rather than sharing our positions and beliefs, we might share the stories that have shaped our lives and thinking.  Stories can be a powerful way to understand and connect with one another that moves us beyond the assumptions that we often make about the other.

A friend of mine has been participating in a long-running dialogue in which those in favor and those opposed to abortion share their stories with one another.  Through this process, participants have found understanding and ongoing relationships across this great divide.

Similarly, a group of biblical scholars found understanding and formed relationships in spite of their theological differences by sharing with one another the stories that shaped their understanding of the Bible.  (See Ray Gingerich and Earl Zimmerman, Telling Our Stories:  Personal Accounts of Engagement with Scripture.)

Dialogue is essential and sharing stories is one important way to dialogue.

Stories make sense of our lives.  Stories communicate who we are and what made us.  In her opening chapter entitled “Stories Matter” (Telling True Stories by Mark Kramer & Wendy Call), Jacqui Banaszynski puts it like this:  “Stories are our prayers…. Stories are parables…. Stores are history…. Stories are music…. Stories are our soul….”

December 22nd, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Justice for children whose parents are in prison

Three million children in the United States are estimated to have one or both parents in prison.   Here is some information about these children:

  • 1 in 15 African American children has a parent in prison.  For white children the figure is 1 in 110.
  • About half of parents in prison have never had a personal visit from their children.
  • Half of children with an incarcerated mother live with their grandmother.
  • Children of prisoners are 5 times more likely to go to prison themselves than other children.
  • Common reactions include feelings of guilt, shame and loss; fear of abandonment and loss of support; anxiety; attention disorders; traumatic stress and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Longer-term results can include maturation regression as well as reduced ability to cope with stress and trauma.
  • The associated stress and trauma often results in both short and long term mental health, behavioral and educational issues.

The impact of prisons on families has been called the collateral damage of crime and of our justice policies.  Nell Bernstein, in her important book, All Alone in the World, states it eloquently:

“These children have committed no crime, but the price they are forced to pay is steep. They forfeit, too, much of what matters to them:  their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection.  Their lives are profoundly affected….”

What Will Happen to Me? is intended to bring attention to these children.  Rather than speak for them, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to present themselves through their portraits and words.

The book is also designed for those who care for these children:  grandparents, teachers, social workers.  Using a restorative justice framework, it concludes with an essay on the justice needs of these children.  The appendix includes suggested resources and the Bill of Rights for Children of the Incarcerated.

For a preview of some of these photos and stories, see my photo story at visualpeacemakers.org.

While not “officially” released until January, the book is now available at stores such as Amazon.com.

Also just off the press and to be released shortly is a new edition of Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences that has been out of print for several years. The new edition contains a number of updates on people and statistics.

(For more information on families of prisoners, see The National Reentry Resource Center.

NEW January 26, 2011:

Story in Ebony online.

Interview on Michael Eric Dyson Show.

December 10th, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Photography, Restorative Justice)

Decolonizing research and photography

“From the vantage point of the colonized, a position from which I write, and choose to privilege, the term “research” is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.  The word itself, ‘research,’ is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary.  When mentioned in many indigenous contexts, it stirs up silence, it conjures up bad memories, it raises a smile that is knowing and distrustful….  The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world’s colonized peoples.

So begins Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s book, Decolonizing Methodologies:  Research and Indigenous Peoples (New Zealand: University of Otago Press 1999).  Smith, who is Maori,  could just as well be talking about journalism and photography.

I was reminded of this recently while reading Trading Gazes:  Euro-American Women Photographers and Native North Americans, 1880-1940 by Susan Bernardin, Melody Graulich, Lisa MacFarlane and Nicole Tonkovich.  Trading Gazes examines the life and work of four women photographers who courageously left behind their prescribed gender roles as well as the safety and comfort of their privileged communities to frequent, and sometimes live in, Native American communities. In many ways their motives were admirable. Some sought adventure, to be sure, but they also hoped to bring attention to and humanize “the other” in an era of much misinformation and stereotyping.  Their photographs often focused on human interactions and activities that male photographers neglected.  They “traded gazes” and often artifacts with the people they interviewed and photographed.

Yet the exchanges were often unequal.  In Trading Gazes the authors “explore the asymmetries of power that made these images possible in their own moment and that have preserved (or obscured) them for our own age.”  By reinforcing stereotypes their work contributed to the colonizing policies of the era.

Just how this works is described by American journalist Amy Wilentz in “A Place Called Haiti” (Aperture, Issue 126, 1992).  She begins her article by describing behavior that American observers often find bizarre – but which is entirely logical once you’ve “learned something of the grammar of Haiti’s reality.”  Even when we are socially aware, we bring with us certain expectations and assumptions and those affect what and how we photograph.  “Obviously, a photographer makes pictures of subjects that strike her, and those subjects may often be ones that, for some reason – often, the wrong reason – resonate in her mind.”  Likewise, she notes, a “good photograph is one that can be understood by its intended viewer because it reflects received wisdom and stereotype.”  In doing so, it confirms our assumptions and justifies our actions.

There is a often great contrast between the photographs of Haiti made by foreign and by Haitian photographers. Haitian photographs show a place they know as home and their photos tend to be truly documentary.  White photographers, Wilentz argues, are showing a place full of mystery, that they don’t fully understand.  “This makes their pictures mysterious, dense and attractive, but also keeps intact that wall of incomprehension that has long existed between Haitian subject and non-Haitian viewer.”

Dianne Haagaman explores this in her book, How I Learned Not to be a Photojournalist. Working as a newspaper photographer, she soon learned that there were templates that governed what editors wanted and how photographers photographed.  Faced with the need to organize messy reality in ways that get attention and communicate simple ideas, “Photographers…as a matter of efficiency, shoot from an implicit script, using standard forms to say standard things about standard topics.”   These powerful but simplified images often confirm stereotypes and assumptions.  They also ignore and obscure power dynamics.  Haagaman left conventional journalism and experimented with ways to use photography that would reveal and help analyze underlying power relationships.

How do we address these pitfalls?  One step, of course, is to be as aware of the hidden biases and the power dynamics in our  approaches.  Another is to immerse ourselves as much as possible in the context.  But none of this is likely to avoid the trap.  As I have discussed in earlier entries, what is required is that we change the relationship from researcher/photographer and subject to a reciprocal relationship of mutual collaboration. We must give as well as receive.  Above all, we must commit ourselves to deliberate accountability to those whose stories we tell and whose images we use.

November 4th, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Photography, Restorative Justice)

Social work and restorative justice

Social Work and Restorative Justice:  Skills for Dialogue, Peacemaking and Reconciliation, edited by Elizabeth Beck, Nancy P. Kropf and Pamela Blume-Leonard (Oxford University Press, 2011), is an important collection of essays on this subject. It will be of interest to both social work and restorative justice practitioners.  The following is the Afterword that Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and I were invited to contribute:

The field that has come to be known as restorative justice was born in experiment and practice rather than theory; the term “restorative justice” and the conceptual framework came later. Although it did not directly emerge from the field of social work, restorative justice was born in a context and era much influenced by social work. It is appropriate, then, that the fields of restorative justice and social work are again converging, as the authors in this volume so convincingly argue.

We acknowledge deep historical roots for the field of restorative justice; many indigenous traditions were essentially restorative, though with different terminology.  However, the first practical programs grew out of juvenile probation in the 1970s, in an era when probation was more social work than surveillance. In fact, it was common for probation officers of this era to have social work backgrounds. Steve Miller was the chief juvenile probation officer under whom the first U.S. “victim offender reconciliation program” or VORP was developed (in Elkhart, Indiana, in the mid 1970s). Although he had graduated with a B.A. in sociology, he had taken a variety of social work courses that he says were foundational to his work. Mark Yantzi, the Canadian probation officer who, with Dave Worth, in 1974 conducted what is considered the first VORP case, similarly had a sociology degree with a focus on human services. Yantzi later did a Masters of Applied Science in Human Relations and Counseling, his thesis focusing on “the role of the third party in the victim-offender conflict.”

Following the misguided discrediting of the “liberal” strategies of the 1960’s that focused on rehabilitation and jobs, the 1970’s and 80s reflected a more conservative emphasis that called for “just deserts” and more punitive sentencing.  Although this emphasis was most pronounced in adult justice, juvenile justice was affected as well.  This was not an environment that fit well with social work and as the authors here describe, social work began to move away from courts and corrections. Meanwhile, in this punitive environment, restorative justice developed as an ongoing attempt to provide justice theory and practices that were more human and service-centered for both victim and offender. As it has matured, its links with social work – actual as well as potential – have grown increasingly important. We echo the chorus of voices in this book calling for stronger bonds.

One of the most evident intersections of restorative justice and social work is in the foundational issue of values. Moreover, their ultimate goal is similar: to help build and maintain healthy individuals, relationships and communities. Restorative justice offers a framework and a set of practices to repair, to the extent possible, relationships that have been damaged, focusing especially on human needs and obligations. These practices and concepts have greatly benefited by the skills and framework offered by social work. This is exemplified in our own collaboration over the past three decades.

Both of us – Lorraine and Howard – have been with the field of restorative justice since its early years. Howard was director of the first VORP in the U.S., in Elkhart, Indiana, and is considered one of the developers of the conceptual framework. He has played a significant role in the spread of the field internationally. His work has largely been in the criminal justice arena.  Lorraine has often credited her degree in social work as the beginning of her work in the area of crime and justice. During her junior year in college, she did a year-long practicum in a pre-trial diversion agency which piqued her interest in the area of juvenile justice. She then began her career in the Elkhart VORP as well and has since concentrated especially on practice and training of practitioners. Following a number of years of practice, she received her Masters in Social Work and was heartened to see the excitement growing in the field in the area of criminal justice. She has found it especially significant that the Encyclopedia of Social Work discusses the importance of not only social workers within the field of criminal justice and also that there is a growing trend toward restorative justice in social work.

As the two of us have worked together throughout most of these years, often collaborating on projects, trainings and cases, we have certainly experienced the benefits of the knowledge both fields have to offer.  Our latest collaboration, for example, has resulted in a book entitled What Will Happen to Me? [scheduled for release in January] highlighting photographic portraits and quotes from some of the hidden victims of crime – children who have parents in prison.  Intended in part for caregivers of these children such as grandparents, teachers – and social workers – the project is informed by some key restorative justice values or goals:  to help us address the needs of “stakeholders” in justice, to reduce the “othering” of people who are marginalized by society, to create dialogue around these issues.  The project was inspired by Lorraine’s MSW thesis that focused on the issues these children face.  The first phase of this project was an exhibit that features photographic portraits by Howard as well as interviews with children of incarcerated parents as a way to give a voice to those children who are not heard through  the justice process.

Restorative justice arose as an effort to address some of the deficiencies in the criminal justice system: its neglect of victims, its failure to hold those who offend accountable in a meaningful way, its disempowerment of the community, its tendency to heighten rather than reduce social conflict.  This application of restorative justice within criminal justice continues to expand throughout the world.  However, because the values, principles and practices of these two approaches are often at such odds, the relationship continues to be an uneasy one.

In spite of its deficiencies, the criminal justice system has some crucial functions: at its best it provides a way to sort out at least a semblance of “truth” when people are in denial, to uphold due process and the rule of law, to draw boundaries on unacceptable behavior. Unfortunately, though, it does so in a way that is largely negative. Its basic message is: if you harm others, we will harm you in return. This tends to reinforce the tit-for-tat concept of justice that drives much wrongdoing. Moreover, the conceptual framework is largely negative. Thus it is necessary to bring other values from “outside” into play in order to mitigate this negativity. Probation or correctional officers’ jobs are primarily to contain bad behavior so in order to create humane conditions, we have to impose other values and guidelines that humanize their roles. A vision of how we as human beings want to live together is not inherent in these roles, in short, so we provide behavioral guidelines and consequences to insure that the roles are done humanely.

Unlike the criminal justice framework, we argue that restorative justice and social work contain within them a vision of how we want to live together in our communities. The values and practices that are required to maintain healthy individuals and relationships are inherent in the conceptual and value frameworks themselves. The two fields also share an inherent vision to address the critical issues within both areas: systemic issues of oppression that have often been pushed to the back burner in the interests of meeting human need in the here and now. Arguably, therefore, there is a much stronger natural affinity between restorative justice and social work than between criminal justice and restorative justice. This is just one more reason that we are so appreciative of the editors and authors of this book.

As this book makes clear, restorative justice’s applications go far beyond the justice system. Schools, for example, are an area of considerable growth; whole school approaches seek not only to respond to wrongdoing restoratively but also to build climates of safety and care within the classroom and community.  University conduct and workplace harms are other areas of growth.  Child welfare is an arena in which restorative justice is making significant inroads and where social workers play essential roles; the relationship between case coordinators for family group conferences/decision-making and case social workers is essential. While there may be current tensions between what is seen as restorative justice processes (family group conferences) and social services (child welfare cases) because of limited available funding for social services, our hope is that the clear benefit to families and communities of these overlapping models will lead to more interaction between these fields.

Social work and restorative justice have much to gain from each other.  Indeed, we need each other!  This book makes a significant contribution to an essential dialogue and collaboration.

October 31st, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Hip-hop justice

“The American criminal justice system is so dysfunctional that it presents well-intentioned people with a dilemma.  Should good people cooperate with it?”

Paul Butler should know whereof he speaks:  he is a former federal prosecutor.

Speaking of prison, he says, “The criminal justice system gives the state a monopoly on exercising that kind of retribution.  It’s legal hate.”

“The problem is that it’s hard to contain.  In the United States the rush to punish is out of control.  In addition to the violent creeps I put away, I sent hundred of other people to prison who should not be there.  Their incarceration only makes things worse – for them and especially for us on the outside.  We would all be better off if I lost those cases.  We would be safer and more free.”

“But I was too good a prosecutor to lose much.  And then I got locked up myself.”

Butler was falsely charged. He was eventually found not guilty because he knew the ropes and could hire a good attorney.  Significantly, and not coincidentally, Butler is African American.

In Let’s Get Free:  A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice, Paul Butler tells his story, then analyzes the US system of punishment – its overuse of prison, its disproportionate impact on communities of color, the threats to freedom it poses, the false sense of security it exudes.  He suggests a number of remedies, though none quite get at the basic question of punishment.

Butler argues that incarceration lowers crime to a certain point; once this tipping point is reached, however, prison actually increases crime.  America has far exceeded that point. If we released 500,000 non-violent offenders, he says, we would be both safer and freer.

He also argues that this system puts too much power into the hands of the state.

Given these concerns, Butler calls for juries to exercise their right to nullify the law when they think it is being inappropriately applied.  The U. S. Constitution recognizes the right of juries to disregard evidence and acquit a defendant when they believe that the law is wrong or unfairly applied.  But few jurors know this.  In fact, the Supreme Court has recognized the right of juries to nullify but ruled that they should not be told they have this right.   As Butler says, when juries nullify they act lawfully, but no one is required to tell them they have this option.

Here is where it gets interesting.  In cases of minor drug violations, when the law is clearly being enforced in a discriminatory manner, Butler calls for jury nullification as an act of civil disobedience:  “…now is the time for Martin Luther King jurors…. Nullification is the new-school form of civil disobedience.”  His argument for this and his campaign for jury nullification can be found at www.JurorsforJustice.com.

Butler’s chapter entitled “Should Good People Be Prosecutors?” is a reflection on the complexities of trying to “do good” within political and punitive systems and cultures.  It is a helpful case study for those who are considering the pros and cons of working at social change from within or from outside of systems.  It is also an important read for those considering the legal profession as an avenue for social change.

For real transformation to happen we must listen to those most affected by justice.  Thus, Butler concludes, we have much to learn about justice from hip-hop culture:  “Believe it or not, the culture provides a blueprint for a system that would enhance public safety and treat all people with respect.  Hip-hop has the potential to transform justice in the United States.”  Hip-hop culture clearly identifies the unintended consequences of incarceration including the impact on families, especially children.  Butler quotes the rapper Makaveli:  “My homeboy’s doin life, his baby mama be stressin’ / Sheddin tears when her son, finally ask that question / Where my daddy at? Mama why we live so poor?”

According to Butler, hip-hop has three core principles that inform its ideas about justice.  The second and third are these:  Offenders are human beings who deserve respect and love.  Communities are being destroyed by both crime and punishment.

The first core principle reveals the limitation of Butler’s hip-hop theory of justice from a restorative justice perspective:  “..people who harm others should be harmed in return.”  Neither Butler or most hip-hop culture questions the fundamental tit-for-tat nature of justice.  Nevertheless, we have much to learn by listening to these voices.

October 15th, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Restorative Justice)

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October 2nd, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Photography, Restorative Justice)

Restorative re-entry

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, three quarters of a million state & federal prisoners were released in 2008 and this number is expected to grow. The obstacles to successful re-entry faced by these ex-prisoners are staggering.

Some years ago Madison Area Urban Ministry developed a simulation exercise and a video to help us understand these obstacles. The simulation walks participants through the various steps of re-entry.  I once took part in this exercise. Most of us – except for some experienced former prisoners – never made it through. The video tells the story of a prisoner’s release and the circle that worked with him.

Re-entry represents an important arena for restorative justice applications and a number of communities have pioneered such programs.  A few, for example, use a family group conferencing model to help families address the issues and relationships involved when a loved one enters or returns from prison.

More common are programs that build upon the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA or CSA) model first developed for working with those who had offended sexually. Madison Area Urban Ministry’s program, for example, was inspired by that approach.

I recently discovered a promising approach being piloted in Estes Park, Colorado, by a police and community partnership. Operated by the Estes Valley Restorative Justice Partnership, it is entitled Community Circles:  A Pathway for Re-entry.  I was especially impressed by this program’s explicit guidelines for “core member” and community responsibilities, meeting agendas, circle guidelines, and weekly contracts.

A manual is in progress. In the meantime,  program manager Amanda Nagl says that she is happy to share the documentation they have available.  This will be a helpful resource if your community is considering a similar model.  Amanda’s email is anagl@estes.org.

Research suggests that a major factor in successful re-entry is family connections.  Yet the National Reentry Resource Center reports that 55% of parents in state correctional facilities and 45% of parents in federal correctional facilities say that they have had no personal visits from their children.

Contact between children and parents is important not only for  incarcerated parents but for the children as well.  The importance of this became clear in the interviews with such children that Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and I conducted for our forthcoming book, What Will Happen to Me? This book, which is due for release in January 2011, highlights the faces and words of some of these 3 million children. It also provides helpful information for caregivers such as grandparents and teachers.  But more on this book in a later entry.

September 30th, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Restorative Justice)