As of today, there are about 2.3 million people imprisoned in the US. But, as Felicia Gustin of WarTimes asks, Is locking people away the answer to creating safer communities? She reports on the work of the Restorative Community Conferencing Program, based in Oakland, California. According to the Program’s coordinator, Denise Curtis, “Restorative justice is a different approach to crime… Our current justice system asks: What law was broken? Who broke it? and How should they be punished? Restorative justice asks: Who has been harmed? What needs have arisen because of the harm? and Whose responsibility is it to make things as right as they can?”
As Gustin reports, the program works with youth cases referred by the District Attorney. Some involve felonies such as assault, robbery and burglary. The Oakland Unified School District has also successfully incorporated restorative justice practices as an alternative to expelling and suspending youth which, according to Curtis, “impact Black and Brown youth disproportionately much more than white youth.”
Gustin reports that variations of restorative justice programs currently operate in Baltimore, Minneapolis, New York, Chicago and New Orleans, among other cities, and at least one study shows such programs have been effective in reducing recidivism. Nevertheless, few are aware of restorative justice as a real alternative to mass incarceration and this positive development deserves more news coverage.
Felicia Gustin, “Can Restorative Justice Save Us? A Look at an Alternative to Mass Incarceration,” WarTimes, November 4, 2013, http://www.war-times.org/can-restorative-justice-save-us-look-alternative-mass-incarceration
Student Researcher: Fabiola Garcia (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot Cohen (Indian River State College)