Welcome back, Weasels! This post might get kinda heavy so I’d like to start with some good news. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that the US just had an election in which Trump was voted out in favour of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. This is a big moment for the left and a record breaking US election: the ticket won the most votes ever cast for a president in US history, Joe Biden is the oldest elected US president, and Kamala Harris is the first woman and first person of colour to be elected vice president of the US, and Trump joins the small club of US presidential incumbents who were voted out after only one term. This makes this blog, a lot of which was written before the election, a more likely scenario than before.
In the current age of the ‘defund the police’ movement I think a lot of people are worried about what alternatives there are. I was too, at first, until I did my research. They’re worried about crime and punishment… Well that’s where we think about alternates to the punitive justice system.
The topics that I’ll be touching on (in no particular detail or specifics) are: theft, violence, and murder.
What’s Wrong With Punitive Justice?
The justice system most of us have grown up with is known as punitive justice; it focuses on punishment and, while rehabilitation is becoming a bit more of a focus, it doesn’t address the root of the problem. Now I’m no expert on justice, I’d like to put that out here early. The only dealings I’ve had with the police are some small incidents in my youth and a few in young adulthood where I relied on them, especially during the early years of my transition (I was assigned male at birth, but live as a woman now), but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about an alternative to the traditional system which not only over-targets the black and ethnic minority population but those from more disadvantaged backgrounds and other minority groups, but also creates a culture of crime in prisons and fuels the prison industrial complex and the proportion of people who go on to re-offend. In the time of the coronavirus pandemic, it puts people in danger in my opinion: not only prisoners, but prison workers too. So when is a better time to think seriously about alternatives?
As a side note: if you have access to a means to watch 13th (the Netflix documentary) I thoroughly recommend it, it really made me think and introduced me to some things I had the bliss of being able to be ignorant about, given my privileges of being white, having a mostly good family life and being financially somewhat stable.
The idea of transformative justice moves away from the idea of punishing people for crimes. Instead it’s about looking at not only the crime itself (some of which I don’t even like to consider crimes since a lot of crimes are defined by preexisting prejudice, ignorance, and religious overhangs), but the reasons behind them. Focusing on changing communities and behaviours and recognising that no crime happens in a bubble. Transformative justice is a large movement and would take far too long to learn and write about in a blog post so I’m going to narrow focus.
If we think about why people steal as an example. On a fundamental level people steal for a few main reasons: poverty/necessity, greed, and perhaps a small proportion of vengeance(?). Now if we can look at these causes and begin to think a bit more about why it’s happened and how, as a society, we can transform to help reduce the incidence of these reasons.
Simply speaking poverty happens due to a few key factors: financial mismanagement, generational poverty (the idea that growing up in poverty a person can not know how to get out of it), lack of employment due to lack of jobs, difficulty finding jobs, and ‘unemployability’, low paying/insecure job, and addiction to name a few. As a society we can help change these things. We can focus a lot more time during school in learning how to manage money, we can stop creating ghettos by forcing the property industry to be more fair in assigning realistic and affordable rents (in Scotland, for example, there is law that a certain percentage of properties in any new development must be a ‘fair’ rent – although the percentage and how a fair rent is defined I don’t know), we can better support those people who are out of work (which is more and more important now with the massive levels of unemployment due to Covid), reevaluate our tax system and how there can be such a huge gap between the best off and the worst off in our society, and to stop the mere using/possession of drugs as a criminal act. This is not to say that the perpetrator doesn’t have a responsibility to take for their actions as well, it just doesn’t straight up ignore it as the current system does. Now instead of just going straight to punishment we could be looking more intently at the causes and how we can change as a society/community instead of going straight from conviction to punishment (which is, after all, just a more ‘adult’ version of detention/time out at best and ends someone’s life literally or metaphorically at worst).
Now let’s get a bit more uncomfortable: what about assault? Why do people hurt each other? Hatred? Indifference? ‘Macho’ culture? Jealousy? Vengeance? Fear? Rage? Each of these things don’t happen on their own. I will put my hand up here that I have been a victim as well as a perpetrator of assault and will not be trying to justify my actions or theirs. But each of these things have root causes too. I could go on and on about various crimes, the potential reasons behind them, and possible solutions, but the point, in my opinion, of transformative justice is to look at each crime in its own right and think not only about how perpetrators can make amends, but also the way society can change to reduce the risk of it happening again.
Some Videos to Further Whet Your Appetite
Here are some YouTube videos that I think you’d like if you liked this post. This list is in no particular order and is by no means exhaustive, but I think they give a good understanding from different perspectives however challenging they may be (specifically the last one):
- What is Transformative Justice?
- Trigger warning: domestic violence and sexual abuse (including against children). What Does Justice Look Like for Survivors?
- Trigger warning: talk by a person who has committed murder/manslaughter. Transformative Justice | Jacob Dunne | TEDxYouth@Bath.
That is my understanding and opinion on transformative justice. What’s yours? Let me know in any way you wish; comment, email, or even in person if you are one of the few people I come into contact with (be that virtually or physical proximity)
This has been a difficult topic to focus on, but I figure is anything worthwhile not going to cause some discomfort? But sometimes I struggle on what to discuss or talk about or just rant about, so let me know any topics you’d like me to look into and cover. If it’s something I’m familiar with I’m glad to write about it, if it’s something I’m not as familiar with I will do at least some research beforehand, and if it’s something I know nothing about I can either look for someone with more expertise or look into it much more.
Bear in mind that I’m human, I have biases, and they can and do influence what I write about and how I approach it, but I do my best to balance my coverage where I notice a very clear bias or at least bring it up for your information. I invite topics both left and right and anything in between or outwith.
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Until next time, my weasels!
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