Integral Transformative Justice

“When things happen, when crimes happen, when harmful behaviors happen, this is, in some ways on a systemic level, the world speaking to us saying, “Hey, there is something to pay attention to here, the system is breaking down, the community is breaking down.” These things don’t just happen out of nowhere and the world is saying, “Wake up, pay more attention here.”

What is Integral Tranformative Justice? How is it different then the current Retributive Justice model that dominates criminal justice in our country, and the world for that matter?

Integral Transformative Justice is a model Kate Crisp and I have been working to develop over the past 20 years at Prison Dharma Network. We’ve been working on evolving this over time as an alternative to the current model.

Many of you have probably heard of Restorative Justice, which is another wonderful model. This model is focused on healing rather than punishing. It’s really about healing the tear in the community fabric whenever there has been a crime or a tragedy or some kind of harm done. They way Restorative Justice often works is as alternative to the usual court system, especially in smaller level crimes or social problems. Sometimes it can be part of the regular court system or involve a victim-offender reconciliation program.

The core of Restorative Justice is usually composed of community volunteers who form Restorative Justice circles, or panels, and   stand in for the needs of the community – the needs of those who have been harmed – and invite the person, or people, who have caused harm into a dialog. They are often asking for recognition from those who caused the harm, as a movement towards accountability and are certainly trying to encourage and call forth empathy for the people who have been victimized. This process often has them enter into a contract which gives the community some sense that the person has recognized the harm, recognized the impact of their behaviors, and that they are willing to provide restitution, where that is appropriate, and that they are willing to enter into some kind of behavioral treatment or training, and ultimately, that they move into a healthier lifestyle and won’t continue to cause harm in this way.

Our model, called Integral Transformative Justice, which includes the Restorative Justice model, also includes the Transformative Justice model. The Transformative Justice model, which is better known in Australia and New Zealand, is the Restorative Justice model, but it takes it a step further. It repairs the relationship, inviting the so-called “offenders” or “wrong-doers”  into accountability with so-called “victims” or those who have been harmed.

This is great, and obviously a much better alternative to the punishment model (which really doesn’t meet the needs of those who have been harmed, and doesn’t really do anything but make so-called ‘offenders’ worse through punishing them and demonizing them). Our normal Retributive Justice system, in my opinion, and the opinion of many people, actually causes all kind of collateral damage in our society… it makes people worse. It really doesn’t meet anyone’s needs. Ultimately, it could argued how much public safety it actually creates.

In our view, the Restorative Justice model is a wonderful alternative to this, as it creates more room for healing. At the same time, it is simply dealing with the current wave of harmful behavior or wrongdoing or crime. It is not really looking into roots of crime. Transformative Justice takes this a step further. Transformative Justice not only sees a crime or wrong doing as an opportunity for healing, or a need for healing, it actually sees this as an opportunity for transformation; transformation for everyone in involved,  the victims, their family, their community and also transformation for the wrong-doer and their family, their community and transformation for society as a whole.

When crimes or harmful behaviors happen, I tend to think of it in some ways on a systemic level. It is as if the world is speaking to us saying, “Hey, there is something to pay attention to here, the system is breaking down, the community is breaking down.” These things don’t just happen out of nowhere and the world is saying, “Wake up, pay more attention here.”

Transformative Justice wants to look deeper into the behavior and ask “How did it arise?” Transformative Justice asks the questions: “Whats happening in their background?” or “What kind of pain and suffering are they acting out of?”

People don’t do harm out of a place of their own joy and life fulfillment. People do harm out of their own place of suffering, pain and confusion. When we’re trying to invite people who have caused harm into an empathic place with those who have been impacted by their behavior, they may not have capability to express empathy because no one’s ever listened to their pain, no one’s ever heard about their suffering, they’ve never received the empathy, so they might not have the capacity to give empathy.

If we really want to reduce crime and reduce harmful behavior, we have to first be willing to look at how crime arises in the individual themselves. We have to ask ourselves, “Are we willing to bring healing to this individual so that they have a greater capacity for empathy and a lower capacity for doing harmful behavior?” When we do harm it means we are disconnected from those we’re harming. It means we have depersonalized them or we’re completely unaware of them and somehow we’ve turned them into objects, we’re not in an empathic space. When we have empathy, we can’t do harm doing.

What’s different about Transformative Justice is bringing healing to the so-called “offender” and then looking systemically at what’s going on socially. What’s going on in their communities? What’s going on in their socioeconomic strata that they live in, and operate in? What’s happening systemically? If we’re not willing to address the systemic causes and conditions, we can’t really expect things to change. And yes, absolutely, the need for healing of the victim and the community are paramount, no question. At the same time, if we really want to reduce crime – if we really want a safer world, a healthier world, healthier communities – then we have to be willing to look at the causes and conditions out of which the crime and harmful behavior arose in the first place, both at the individual level and at the social systemic level.

This doesn’t mean that if we look at systemic causes and conditions we’re going to let this person ‘off the hook’, or that we’re going to say, “Well, it’s your horrible up bringing and..” no, absolutely not. Any individual who is going to change has to step into accountability and recognize the impact their behaviors are having on others. They have to own the consequences they receive; it is the only way they are going to change. And at the same time, we have to recognize that so many people in our world, who are doing harmful behavior come out backgrounds and upbringings that are just absolutely horrendous situations. And unless we’re willing to do something about that, we can’t really expect things to change very much.

So, in our model, Integral Transformative Justice integrates this needs for personal accountability into the need to bring healing to everyone involved. It ask us to look deeply into causes and conditions at the individual and the systemic level and by doing so it allows us to bring transformation for everyone involved.

To hear more on this, topic, please listen to Part Two of Fleet Maull speaking on Transformative Justice.

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