Justice for George. Justice for Breonna. Justice for Ahmaud. Social media has seen frenzies of Tweets and Instagram quotes reciting these lines. They deserve justice, but true justice goes far beyond throwing the perpetrators in jail or firing them. In order to achieve true justice, society must build it from the ground up, destroying the very root of our criminal justice system: racism. In 2020, it has become incredibly apparent that the system that prides itself on achieving justice is simply rooted in punishment.
While posting #justiceforGeorge provides a somewhat tangible act for people to use as a way to feel that they are contributing to change, it does not solve the problem that led to these tweets in the first place. It does not dismantle the system that is built on oppression, punishment, and brutality. Once a life has been taken, it is too late for true justice. So, our society condemns these perpetrators to a life of punishment rather than searching for ways to reconstruct the system that these murders are a result of. Society is asking that these offenders be held accountable, but it is nearly impossible to equate accountability with justice. Accountability does not mean justice and it does not save future lives.
A system based on punishment does not reach the root of the problem. Hearing a victim statement condemning a perpetrator to death by lethal injection does not make them any less of a victim. After the offender is gone, nothing substantial changes and the victims are still left to pick up the pieces of their life.
The prison system and criminal justice system are based in a system of retributive justice. Retributive justice is a system that states that when a law is broken, the offender must be punished in return with suffering that is proportional to the crime committed. Many people who support retributive justice also support the death penalty, and justify it with sayings like “an eye for an eye.” However, if society could find a way to seek justice for the victim while rehabilitating the offender, the criminal justice system could function in a way that produces more contributing members of society. Enter: restorative justice.
Restorative justice focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims, families of victims, and the community as a whole. It offers a chance to offenders who have truly changed during their time in captivity. There are three pillars of restorative justice: repair, encounter, and transform. Offenders must repair the harm they have caused. They must encounter the people they have directly impacted and develop a way that they may reconcile themselves. Finally, they must show a true transformation in themselves, their relationships, and their community.
Kate Morgan, a 45-year-old woman from Dolgellau, Wales, witnessed first hand the closure and peace that can result from restorative justice. Morgan’s 22-year-old daughter was tragically killed in a dangerous driving accident. Her killer, Ian Edwards, was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. Morgan got involved in a restorative justice program and decided it was finally time for her to face the man who had taken her beloved daughter from her. So, she went to the prison and sat down with Edwards. Morgan was given the opportunity to ask questions, tell him how she felt, and finally face the man who had dismantled her life. Morgan says that restorative justice was absolutely necessary for her and that she “slept through the night for the first time” since the tragic death. Talking together and participating in restorative justice gave Morgan and Edwards the closure they needed to progress.
Society must take a deeper look at the systems that are in place in our world today. Many of these, if not all, are traditionally rooted in the oppression and exploitation of people of color. So, how does one truly seek justice? True justice comes from the principle of transformative justice.
Similarly to restorative justice, transformative justice seeks to rehabilitate those involved. It differs from restorative justice because it takes the rehabilitation outside of the criminal justice system, and seeks to reshape the systems that are in place. True justice comes from reshaping our system in a way that actually lowers crime. For example, implementing free universal healthcare would prevent people from having to choose between receiving treatment and providing for their family. This, in turn, would significantly decrease the likelihood that this person would commit a crime in order to satisfy both needs. Additionally, legalizing and regulating the sex work industry would lead to less rapes, murders, assaults and many other crimes the girls fall victim to while they are working to provide for themselves. When society takes a broader look into the systems in place, transformative justice can come into play to create more avenues to true, wholehearted justice.