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From Restorative Justice to Transformative Justice, Tri-Cities Justice Forum, November 29, 1999
WN: I had forgotten about presentations such as the above. As I recall, the provincial government of British Columbia Canada was offering grants to municipalities wishing to do Restorative Justice initiatives. In 1999 CERA (Communities Embracing Restorative Action) was formally founded as a non-profit society with charitable status. What I presented may have been at its first government-funded Conference.
What Restorative Justice is Not
I will yet say more about aspects of justice and Restorative Justice itself. But before that, in partial answer to my questions above, I will make a few comments on what Restorative Justice is not.
First, it is not the latest “flavour of the month” about as faddish as “pogs” from a few years ago, and destined to be as ephemeral. Restorative Justice is a deep artesian stream that has fed human culture for as long as humans have traced their way across this earth. Two summers ago, I had the great pleasure of participating in a writing project organized by the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. The initiative was inspired by a national Restorative Justice conference in March of 1997 known as Satisfying Justice. Several researchers, academics, and practitioners investigated the major world religious traditions, and secular and contemporary jurisprudential cultural roots of Restorative Justice. In an intensive week at a Summer Camp of caucusing, critiquing, and celebrating together, a book emerged that soon will be published by the State University of New York (SUNY) Press entitled The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice. The current Deputy Commissioner of Programs for Correctional Services Canada, Pierre Allard, and I were privileged to contribute the chapter on Christianity.
What stands out from that project is the profound ubiquitous religious/cultural rootedness of Restorative Justice. It sources from, and in turn elicits, some of the deepest intuitions of our common humanity in its quest to celebrate human dignity, respect, and inviolable worth.
Second, and in general, with apologies to those who may be such: it is not necessarily what the politicians say it is! Restorative Justice began with the grass-roots, and continues to enjoy immense community-based support and development throughout jurisdictions around the world where it has taken root. A European criminologist opines that the death knell of doing justice restoratively is allowing crime and justice to be politicized. He says:
…a strongly [politically motivated] punitive and law-and-order approach to complex criminal justice problems in general brutalizes prisoners, prison staff and society at large (Satisfying Justice, CCJC, 1996, p. 183).
In that justice is already highly political in Canada, the real issue is: how to help politicians a) genuinely understand the vision of Restorative Justice; and b) keep focussed on the real needs of victims, communities and offenders impacted by crime, and not just on the next election!
At a Restorative Justice Workshop November 16 of this year held all day at Ferndale Institution, a prison in Mission, I met a prisoner, Murray Johnston, who had just published a Letter to the Editor. He wrote picturesquely:
The current political climate offers nothing more than Randy Whitemares, and Gurty Poolitics.” [He was referring to Randy White, an outspoken MP, ever critical of Correctional Services Canada, and Gertie Pool, a strong activist critic as well.]
A good problem solver not only identifies the problem, but offers a solution.” He concluded his letter this way: “Restorative Justice is a Christian concept where victims come away with a sense that justice really has been done, and offenders with a sense of responsibility and accountability. A win-win situation where healing and reconciliation truly takes place.
I cordially invite both Randy White and Gertie Pool to attend this [Ferndale Institution] workshop, in the hope they can help in healing the pain of our society, rather than driving a wedge into an already gaping wound.
What an eloquent expression of the heart-beat of Restorative Justice! The writer deftly underscored its healing dynamic, over against driving new wedges into gaping social wounds. This Restorative Justice vision, he said, both identifies problems, and offers solutions. These are initiatives so expansive, yet so resonant with the deepest well-springs of our shared humanity, they have elicited a Hallelujah Chorus of “Ahas” or “Eurekas!” the world over in awakening or reawakening a Sleeping Goddess of Justice from her deep sleep. In Western jurisprudence, Justice even is deliberately blinded. Imagine!
One Case Management Officer expressed his appreciation this way, in response to a Restorative Justice program operating out of Langley in federal Corrections. (In this initiative, avenues are created for “therapeutic dialogue” between victim and offender with relation to the most serious and violent crimes in the Criminal Code of Canada.). He wrote:
I’ve been in the system for nearly 40 years; I’ve seen a lot and yet you’ve brought a whole new dimension to my work out here. The bus used to unload at the gate, like the raft at the River Styx, on the shore of a hopeless abyss…. You’re providing hope for the future. I’ve seen the outcomes for both victims and the inmates, again and again. I see them when they come in, and I see their demeanour when they leave after one of the meetings you conduct. The difference is dramatic. And I see the effect on the inmates – how their attitude and behaviour change. You can’t see these things month after month and not become a believer (Northey, 1994, p. 38).
Restorative Justice promises something far grander, and mines lodes significantly richer, than scrappy political clap-trap and maneuvering. Thank goodness! As one rape victim’s husband wrote of the same program mentioned above:
Your vision, understanding and caring is a breath of fresh air threatening to bring humanity out of the dark ages of the adversarial system (ibid, 1994, p. 14).
Restorative Justice poses a profound threat: namely, to tease humanity out of the justice system! Restorative Justice in this respect is a dazzling invitation to come join the celebration called life! Once received, who but the most stubbornly contrary would want to miss it?!
Third, Restorative Justice is not “diversion”. This cannot be stressed enough: Restorative Justice is not diversion! Diversion may however fit into “Restorative Justice” initiatives. (Diversion is any process that avoids a criminal case going to court.) If it is after all only diversion, then the term has been co-opted and a whole new language is needed.
More seriously however to be taken by far are the anguished cries of victims and victim service providers. A Discussion Paper, entitled “Restorative Justice Reforms to the Criminal Justice System” produced by the BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses states directly:
Under no circumstances should restorative justice and alternative measures be applied to offenses involving violence against women and children (p. 4).
This completely legitimate concern confuses Restorative Justice, the expansive vision, with “Alternative Measures” in government policy. The vision of Restorative Justice is all-encompassing, and Restorative Justice initiatives have been taken for several years with immense victim satisfaction in all categories of the most serious and violent crime in Canada. The one program in Canada doing this work out of Langley BC is not remotely diversionary however, and generally works with offenders years after their incarceration.
The “Restorative Justice” vision is in this case simply misunderstood, and in fact stands back of the very critique, with a definitive “NO” to all violence! In fact, Restorative Justice as a vision has as its primary “focal instance” the victim’s horrendous plight as she or he reels from the overwhelming trauma of crime.
Please click on: From Restorative Justice to Transformative Justice
- Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.↩
- It continued:
‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.” The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed. It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.↩
- Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.↩
-  The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.↩
- A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
In June , the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.↩