A Critique of Restorative Justice

Editor's note: This guest column was submitted by Andres Boland. Andres, a former writer for RTF's previous iteration, The People's View, is a Minnesota native and excels in issues of national importance with a local focus.

No Justice No Peace

The legal system is deeply flawed and infected with systemic racism across the board.

The fact that the entire Twin Cities (and world, for that matter) was unsure that former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin would face any consequences for murdering George Floyd is a testament to this fact.

A well-intentioned (for the most part) new idea that is nevertheless just as flawed as defunding the police has emerged on how to deal with people who break the law: Restorative justice.

Restorative justice, according to the dictionary, is “a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.”

Required Assumptions

Restorative justice as a practice requires a number of assumptions based on the dictionary definition.

The first assumption is that any offender can be rehabilitated and always wants to change. The other required assumption is that very serious crimes like murder are motivated solely by trauma and not by other factors like greed, stupidity, prejudice, sadism, or just bloodlust.

This also rests on the assumption that every crime can be fixed at all and that some crimes don’t do permanent physical or psychological damage to a person or a community.

Where Restorative Justice Can Be Useful

This approach can be helpful when dealing with people who are committing property crimes fueled by addiction or when dealing with adolescents and children.

This must, however, be treated on a case-by-case basis.

These actions require consequences, of course, but most kids/young people and people who are sick can be rehabilitated because they are not operating from a desire to commit violence for its own sake. In the immortal words of Vice President Kamala Harris regarding most people in their late teens and early twenties, “They are stupid!”

The Limits

Crimes like aggravated and sexual assault or murder do damage that no mediation can fix. In addition, the perpetrators of these crimes have proven they are intrinsically dangerous people who don’t want to stop hurting people or using violence.

Put another way, if a crime involves a weapon directed against a human being, requires therapy, or sends someone to the hospital, the damage cannot be repaired by restorative justice.

The offenders in question must be made to stop by force.

Because these types of criminals are inherently predatory, they will go after people who are the easiest prey, meaning women, the LGBT community, people of color, and, despite stereotypes that they are violent, people who are mentally ill.

What kind of message are we sending by going easy on the perpetrators who target these populations?

To be fair, this goes for the current legal system as well.

Often, the only way to stop these people is to make them stop. This frequently involves putting these criminals in total institutions (spaces where a person’s every action is controlled).

Examples of these institutions include psychiatric hospitals and prisons.

What People Are Really Upset About

People don’t really want restorative justice for crimes that do permanent damage.

They want equal justice for everyone, no matter who you are. Right now, people of color (Black Americans especially) are over-punished and under-protected.

In addition, I suspect that people want what is too often de facto immunity for White people to end.

As do I.

Instead of a justice model that lets violent criminals commit their crime with no consequences, especially against vulnerable populations, law enforcement must significantly improve its case closure rate when the victims are people of color. Prosecutors must take on cases with victims of color, and judges must recognize that people of color victimized by anyone convicted of a violent crime, even if the perpetrator is White, are deserving of closure.

A Shining Embodiment of Justice

Once there was a woman elected district attorney in San Francisco. She would later be elected Attorney General of California. Previously, she had worked on a variety of different cases, but she gained attention as an able prosecutor on her way up. In particular, this prosecutor earned recognition for her work on child sexual assault cases.

When she took over the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, she made it a fairer and more effective office. As California’s attorney general, she beat down so many bad guys that she was basically Batman as a Black woman in a power suit and heels.

I am, of course, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris fought the abuses of the current system with practical, innovative solutions. She made it a point to work with the community and parents to make sure children have the resources they need to stay in school. She mercilessly prosecuted organized criminals that prey on the young and impressionable. She ordered the police to not just wear body cams but to keep them on.

If anyone needs a compass of what true justice can look like, look to our own vice president.

Vice President Kamala Devi Harris is the way forward, not a system that allows people to hurt others with impunity.


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