Peacebuilding Cornerstone:
“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, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Page Sections:
| Empowering Strategies and Programs | Policy Proposals
Key Statistics | Organizations and Links
See all Five Peacebuilding Cornerstones

Peacebuilding Spotlight:

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. humanize2_cropYet 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.

Four Phases of the Justice System

“I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture. It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of those conditions–poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, greed–which are at the root of most punished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished.

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.”

Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

Phase 1: Prevention (Universal Population)

“Attendance. Chronic absenteeism is one of the most reliable predictors of at-risk youth behavior, such as drug abuse, dropping out of school, and future incarceration.”

Austin Buffum (Simplifying Response to Intervention: Four Essential Guiding Principles)

Spiritual Roots of RJ

Aired on Nov 3, 2013

This informative documentary looks at restorative justice through the eyes of victims, offenders, judges, lawyers, First Nations elders and scholars of all different faiths.

Smashing the Pipeline

Aired on June 19, 2015 

A growing number of restorative justice practitioners are determined to smash the “School to Prison Pipeline” that crams America’s jails and ruins millions of lives. Kids are learning respectful, accountable, remarkably wise ways of relating with others, making their personal relationships and communities stronger and safer.

Oprah and Thich Naht Hanh Excerpt – Powerful!

Aired on May 12, 2013

Truly insightful, deep and powerful. Oprah Winfrey via her incredible OWN network, talks to Thich Nhat Hanh about becoming a monk, meeting Martin Luther King Jr; The powers of mindfulness, insight, concentration and compassion, how to transform warring parties and how to deeply transform relationships. 

WALK A MILE IN HIS SHOES – Empathy Wake Up Call

Uploaded on November 9, 2010

Simply a beautiful video demonstrating insight and compassion.

Phase 2: Intervention/Prevention (Indicated-Selected-High Risk)

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.”

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws

Denver, CO: Curbing conflicts in high school. Correspondent Hari Sreenivasan looks at a new approach to discipline that replaces suspensions with conversations. Watch Restorative Resources – Restorative Justice in Schools CA

Aired on April 19, 2013

Justice For and By Youth 

Aired on March 14, 2014

Youth Courts and Accountability Circles are one of the most powerfully effective parts of the emerging Restorative Justice movement. Teenage offenders are challenged by juries of their peers, and by caring yet insistent adult volunteers, to make things right for their victims and their community.

Colorado high school replaces punishment with ‘Talking Circles’

Aired on February 20, 2014

At Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo., students, parents and administration are meeting face-to-face to resolve student conflict with conversation. The number of physical altercations has taken a nosedive as this new type of disciplinary action, called “restorative justice,” replaces suspension. Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

Phase 3: Incarceration

“What explains the rise of racialized mass incarceration? It’s not racial differences in crime rates. To measure crime rates we must take into account poverty and age. Poverty correlates with criminal activity, both because those without resources are more likely to commit crimes, and also because the poor spend more of their hours in public spaces intensively policed by the state. Another factor associated with crime is youth, with young men in particular likely to engage in high-risk and anti-social behavior. Paying attention to these factors, when one compares crime rates across poor males in the high-crime ages of 15 to 18, it turns out that poor youth of color almost across the board are less likely to commit crimes than their white counterparts.37 Poor white youths typically report committing more crimes of all sorts than do minorities. Still, this means that, because blacks and Latinos are disproportionately poor and young relative to the population as a whole, they are disproportionately involved in crime, and perhaps this modest disproportion—not in the propensity to commit crime, but in the likelihood of being poor and young—explains arrest and conviction patterns. It does not. Young men of color are far, far more likely than young white men to be swept into the maw of the American crime control system, even when taking into account youth and poverty.”

Ian F. Haney-Lopez (Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class)

Louisiana Locks Up More of Its Citizens Than Any Other State in the Nation, but Reform Is Coming

Published on June 23, 2017

Meeting with a Killer 4 parts

Uploaded on July 7, 2011

Family members of a young woman that was murdered meets with one of the young men who killed her – now incarcerated & remorseful.

Colorado Department of Corrections RJ Victim & Offender Conferences – Participants share their stories – 2016.

Phase 4: Reintegration/Re-entry

“Because the drug war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, when drug offenders are released, they are generally returned to racially segregated ghetto communities–the places they call home. In many cities, the re-entry phenomenon is highly concentrated in a small number of neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods are a minefield for parolees, for a standard condition of parole is a promise not to associate with felons. As Paula Wolff, a senior executive at Chicago Metropolis 2020 observes, in these ghetto neighborhoods, “It is hard for a parolee to walk to the corner store to get a carton of milk without being subject to a parole violation.”

Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness)

The Poetic Justice Project is a nonprofit program based in Santa Maria, CA which has as its mission the advancement of social justice by engaging formerly incarcerated people in original theater examining crime, punishment, and redemption.

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. Humanize1_cropWe 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.


Policy Proposals:

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.

State-level legislation and policies: The Peace Alliance has helped pass a Restorative Justice bill in Colorado, and we are currently assisting with efforts in Massachusetts, Florida, and Washington.


Key Statistics: Challenges and Solutions


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.

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. [ ]

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,”]


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.

Lionheart Foundation:
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:

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)
Resolutions Northwest
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.