Restorative Justice: Why We Need It and What We Can Do
Restorative justice, a theory that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, has been one of Skidmore’s main focuses for Social Justice Awareness Month. On March 22, Fania E. Davis, J.D., Ph.D., gave a talk in Skidmore’s Gannett Auditorium on “Restorative and Racial Justice, the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Davis grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights era, where she became passionate about social transformation. In the following decades, she was active in civil rights and anti-racial violence movements. Currently, she is the founder and Director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), serves as counsel to the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, and received awards such as the Maloney award for her contributions in youth-based restorative justice, the World Trust’s Healing Justice award, and the Ubuntu award for service to humanity.
Instead of judging and punishing people for their behavior as the retributive justice system does, restorative justice emphasizes understanding and emotionally supporting both the victims and the people who have violated the law. It explains that crime causes harm, so justice should therefore center on restoration of that harm rather than retribution for it. It still requires offenders to take responsibility for their wrongdoings, but also seeks redress for victims, recompense by offenders and reintegration of both within the community. To bring it to action, a cooperative effort by communities and the government is both encouraged and necessary.
First of all, we have to acknowledge the issues within the current justice system. Though it seems fair for offenders to go through the equivalent harm that they have done to the victims and the trauma that they have caused, it can hardly morally persuade them.
The current retributive justice system is also a reflection of totalitarianism. Assume a person kills a stranger and is sentenced to death–he hurts other people and violates the law, but the punishment from the government implements the same technique in punishing him or her. The government indirectly claims that they are the only institution allowed to punish people by any means “necessary.”
In comparison, restorative justice can be a useful approach in building a more peaceful and respectful community. Restorative justice helps criminals realize and evaluate their mistakes, giving victims more emotional support rather than just see their offender punished, a result that does not always give closure to victims. Also, with closure on a past trauma, victims can reduce their worry and anxiety when they meet the people who have potential to hurt them. Under the restorative justice system, all people are treated as worthy of consideration, recognition, care and attention simply because they are people.
Restorative justice is only the beginning of what we can do. The purpose is to teach people to be more caring and understanding. If everyone takes responsibility to give others more care and respect, then society will become healthier.
As Skidmore students, we should be more aware and understanding of cultural, racial, religious and identity diversity. Sometimes, others' actions do not make sense to everyone. Before passing judgments, we should question whether the misunderstanding is caused by our ignorance and insecurity, and if this is something we can do our part to improve. In line with the restorative justice philosophy, all should participate to build a respectful and understanding community.
Editor's Note: The Skidmore News provided funding for Social Justice Month.