“Most people imagine that the explosion in the U.S. prison population during the past twenty-five years reflects changes in crime rates. Few would guess that our prison population leaped from approximately 350,000 to 2.3 million in such a short period of time due to changes in laws and policies, not changes in crime rates. Yet it has been changes in our laws—particularly the dramatic increases in the length of our prison sentences—that have been responsible for the growth of our prison system, not increases in crime. One study suggests that the entire increase in the prison population from 1980 to 2001 can be explained by sentencing policy changes.” ― Michelle Alexander,
Patty La Taille, Peace Alliance Humanizing Justice Systems Lead presents at the National Association for Communities and Restorative Justice Conference on the topic of using therapy dogs as part of the restorative justice process.
Our criminal justice system in America is broken. Our so-called “tough on crime” laws have led to us being the most incarcerated nation in the developed world – disproportionately affecting minorities and some of our most already hard hit communities. Yet at the same time, we have some of the highest levels of violence and crime. It is clearly not an effective strategy, and in fact is largely destructive.
Pew research has shown that if you are locking up more than 500 people per 100,000, you are actually adding to crime because we are disrupting and destabilizing so many families and communities that cannot easily recover. The national average in many parts of the US is over 700 per 100,000 and there are many communities around the country that are at 2000 or even 4000 per 100,000. We must do better, and we can do better.
We are seeing a plethora of cost-effective and evidence-based approaches to implementing justice in society that focus more on healing harm done, rather than simply punishing it. These approaches are proving to work better than our current approach.
Empowering Strategies and Programs, Proven Efficacy:
Early Intervention: Engaging at risk youth early and providing them with support needed to be successful in life can build them into strong, productive members of their communities before they fall into cycles of violence, incarceration, and despair. This can be accomplished through mentoring programs, at home family support, after school programs, and many other positive interventions. (See Community Peacebuilding and Teaching Peace in Schools Cornerstones).
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Restorative Justice: We seek approaches to justice that provide an effective process and container for the development of understanding between offenders and victims as well as the wider community. It provides the conditions, guided by victims, for the possibility of healing, forgiveness and restoration. The nature of a restorative process guided by victims’ needs allows for offenders to come to terms with the human cost of their actions and attempts to right the wrong together with all stakeholders. This often is freeing to victims, as well, and a key aspect of their own ability to move forward. In laying the foundations for empathy, restorative justice can and has radically changed lives, prevented crime and recidivism, and rebuilt communities. Working programs in the US have shown astounding success in reducing recidivism, saving time and judicial expense, while preventing incarceration and its associated costs.
Prisoner rehabilitation and re-entry support: When incarceration is necessary, it is critical that offenders are treated with essential human dignity and given the best chance possible to return to their communities as full members of society, with life skills, job skills and equal opportunities for employment. We support programs in prisons that provide life-skills, that teach inmates emotional literacy, how to better communicate, resolve conflict and deal with emotional and psychological issues. These support modalities have been shown to help transform lives.
Prisons must also be places that provide support and education to prisoners so they are able to care for themselves through productive employment upon release. Returning citizens must have access to supportive programming upon release to ease their transition and to prevent recidivism.
Trauma-Informed Justice and Courts: An increasing body of evidence tells us that the majority of people in jails and prisons have experienced trauma that has scarred their minds and hearts. They may have survived rape, assault, or childhood sexual abuse, or they may have witnessed violence done to others. The experiences that trauma survivors have in the criminal justice system, far from leading them to positive changes in their lives, often add new trauma and deepen their wounds. Many will never be able to break out of the narrow trajectory that constricts their futures unless the justice system and their communities can help them to focus on the root problem: trauma, its lasting effects in human lives, and the need to begin the healing process.
Creating a trauma-informed environment within the juvenile justice system is especially important considering research has demonstrated that many of the youths involved in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to traumatic events.
Diversionary Approaches: Pre-trial and pre-charge diversion support approaches allow low risk offenders to move into programs that address their behavior without saddling them with a conviction, having life-long ramifications, or sending them to a prison where they are often driven further into a harmful lifestyle.
Juvenile Justice: The Juvenile Justice system must take into account the differences in brain development between youth and adults, and treat youth differently. The juvenile justice system needs to provide support in the community whenever possible, reserving incarceration, which is far more harmful to youth than adults, for only the most extreme cases if at all.
Mediation: Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution, a way of resolving disputes between two or more parties with concrete effects. Typically, a third party, the mediator, assists the parties to negotiate a settlement. Mediators use various techniques to open, or improve, dialogue and empathy between disputants, helping the parties reach an agreement.
Youth PROMISE Act: The Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunity, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education (Youth PROMISE) Act would reduce youth violence by enabling inclusive groups of local stakeholders to determine the needs of their own communities and to address those needs with a suite of accountable, evidence based programs. It is locally controlled, accountable, saves money, and it works.
Redeem Act: The Redeem Act would make sealing and expungement simpler for people returning from incarceration, and would remove legal obstacles preventing them from accessing the social support structures critical to helping them reintegrate into society.
Second Chance Reauthorization Act: The Second Chance Act was first passed in 2007, and has used evidence based reentry programs to help those returning from incarceration reintegrate into the community. It has reduced recidivism and saved significant amounts of money.
Smarter Sentencing Act: The Smarter Sentencing Act would reduce a variety of mandatory minimums to reduce unjustifiable disparities in sentencing and to reduce sentences for low risk offenders.
Greater Overarching Infrastructure: whether a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peacebuilding, or significant growth in other top-level agencies like the Dept. of Justice, we must organize ourselves more fundamentally around the work and principles of peacebuilding.
Key Statistics: Challenges and Solutions
With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has nearly 25 percent – 2.3 million – of its prisoners. [San Francisco Chronicle, Norway, California: Contrast in criminal treatment Saturday, August 13, 2011]
After the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (in Longmont Colorado) implemented its Community Restorative Justice Program, recidivism rates dropped to less than 8% in its first three years. [National Research Center’s Analysis of the Longmont Community Justice Partnership 2007-2009 http://www.lcjp.org/images/stories/pdf/LCJP_2007-2009_Report_Final.pdf]
According to the Bureau of Justice, the number of people under some form of correction supervision in the U.S. grew from 200,000 people in 1980 to almost 7 million in 2014.
Approximately 93,000 young people are currently in detention in the US, most of them costing taxpayers over $80,000 per person per year. [http://www.publiceye.org/defendingjustice/pdfs/factsheets/9-Fact%20Sheet%20-%20US%20vs%20World.pdf]
The United States incarcerates a higher proportion of African Americans than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. [Race, Crime and Punishment, Breaking the connection in America. Aspen Institute. [ http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/pubs/Race-Crime-Punishment.pdf ]
Direct expenditures for corrections (i.e., prisons and jails) by local, state and federal governments between 1982 and 2005 increased 619 percent to $65 billion per year. [Direct Expenditures by Criminal Justice Function, 1982-2005, Bureau of Justice Statistics]
In West Philadelphia High School, within two years of implementing a Restorative Discipline program, incidents of assault and disorderly conduct dropped more than 65%. [“Improving School Climate; Findings from Schools Implementing Restorative Practices” a report from the International Institute for Restorative Practices, 2009.]
Communities most afflicted by high incarceration rates have high levels of poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation. “To state the claim bluntly, imprisonment and its effects are concentrated in neighborhoods where black people and poor people live,” political scientist Traci Burch has written. [Traci Burch, “The Spatial Concentration of Imprisonment and Racial Political Inequality,” https://apw.polisci.wisc.edu/archives/Burch%20Spatial%20Concentration%20of%20Imprisonment.pdf.]
Organizations & Links:
The groups are listed here for educational purposes only. Listing them here is not meant to imply that they endorse the above ideas.
Coalition for Juvenile Justice:
CJJ has supported a broad and active coalition across all 56 U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia, as the nonprofit association of Governor-appointed SAG members operating under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), along with allied staff, individuals, and organizations.
National Association of Community and Restorative Justice:
Employs principles of social and restorative justice seeking transformation in the ways justice questions are addressed. It promotes effective forms of justice that are equitable, sustainable and socially constructive. NACRJ serves as the parent organization for the biannual National Conference on Restorative Justice and provides members with information resources applicable to restorative and community justice theory and practice.
Restorative Justice On The Rise:
Restorative Justice on The Rise is an international live dialogue via Webcast and Telecouncil platform, held weekly, reaching an international constituency of a wide spectrum of invididuals, organizations, professionals, academics, practitioners, stakeholders and beyond.
National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition:
A collaborative array of youth- and family- serving, social justice, law enforcement, corrections, and faith-based organizations, working to ensure healthy families, build strong communities and improve public safety by promoting fair and effective policies, practices and programs for youth involved or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Dedicated to providing emotional literacy education programs to incarcerated adults, highly at-risk youth, and teen parents in order to significantly alter their life course.
Prison Mindfulness Institute:
Provides prisoners, prison staff and prison volunteers, with the most effective, evidence-based tools for rehabilitation, self-transformation, and personal & professional development. In particular, they provide and promote the use of proven effective mindfulness-based interventions (MBI’s).
Organizes initiatives for prisoners and challenged youth that create the personal and systemic change to transform violence and suffering into opportunities for learning and healing.
Trauma informed system of care:
Courts, and especially the juvenile court judges, are asked to understand the myriad underlying factors that affect the lives of juveniles and their families. One of the most pervasive of these factors is exposure to trauma. To be most effective in achieving its mission, the juvenile court must both understand the role of traumatic exposure in the lives of children and engage resources and interventions that address child traumatic stress.
Great article link: http://acestoohigh.com/2014/09/24/trauma-informed-judges-take-gentler-approach-administer-problem-solving-justice-to-stop-cycle-of-aces/
Center for Court Innovation:
The Center for Court Innovation seeks to help create a more effective and humane justice system by designing and implementing operating programs, performing original research, and providing reformers around the world with the tools they need to launch new strategies.
Additional Restorative Justice Links:
Zehr Institute for RJ (EMU)
Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth
Community Conferencing Center – Baltimore
Longmont Community Justice Partnership – Colorado
Communities for Restorative Justice
More to come…
* Peacebuilding is a broad field that covers a wide spectrum of approaches beyond what we focus on in these five cornerstones. Our focus is primarily on those tools that directly improve the basic ways we relate and communicate with one another — enhancing greater cooperation. We advocate for policies, legislation and systems needed to move the work of peacebuilding forward. We welcome the work of all peace advocates and diverse peacebuilding organizations. Our hope is to align our intentions and collective peacebuilding actions for a brighter future.