Johonna Turner, professor of restorative justice and peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, returned to her alma mater, the University of Maryland, in April to give a keynote address at the Summit on Restorative Justice and Alternatives to Prisons.
The summit was targeted to students and community members engaged in the prison abolition movement and organized by various student organizations, including the Prison Resistance Project, Students for Justice in Palestine, Aging People in Prisons Human Rights Campaign and the UMD Socialists, as well as the university.
“The goal for the summit is to challenge ourselves to think really critically and deeply about problems of violence, harm, punishment, and justice, and to come out of the summit with a better understanding of what kind of world we’re fighting for and what kind of future we want,” one student organizer said in an email to Turner that included an invitation to speak.
Turner’s address provided an introduction to both restorative and transformative justice including specific examples, the difference between these two models or approaches to justice, and the roles they play in addressing everyday conflicts and gender-based violence, respectively, she said. She also shared concrete steps that participants could take in their everyday lives to work toward a world informed by these models and provided participants with resources to learn more.
The summit included opportunities to hear from and engage with current and formerly incarcerated individuals, such as Shujaa Graham, exonerated after years on death row, and Kenny Collins, an incarcerated man sentenced to death in Maryland. Collins spoke by phone to summit attendees, many of whom are part of a student-led campaign for his freedom.
“It was very powerful to have so many different people together for the shared purpose of cultivating hope and vision for a world in which safety and security is not premised on the practice of putting people in cages,” Turner said. “It was also nice to return to the campus where I earned my doctorate, connect with current students and learn about continuing activism and organizing against the prison-industrial complex that is happening on and off campus.”
During spring semester at EMU, Turner taught an independent study course on transformative justice. She is also writing a chapter on this topic for an anthology to be published by Living Justice Press.
“The opportunity to speak at this summit on both restorative and transformative justice was a wonderful extension of this work, which serves to both build greater awareness and understanding of transformative justice as well as to build bridges between restorative justice and transformative justice leaders,” she said.