The year: 1993. While Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, the government remained in white hands. Apartheid-as–policy was dying, but it continued to exact a horrific and often lethal toll from black South Africans and their communities. Not surprisingly, volatile forms of resistance also continued.
Today, Peni serves as an administrator and Nofemala helps coordinate sports programs for the Amy Biehl Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Biehl’s parents to help equip children in the area with positive education and opportunities crucial to envisioning and creating better futures for themselves.
The criminal legal system that developed in this country was, and remains, rooted in the violence of conquest and the imposition of the institution of chattel slavery. Its evolution over centuries has resulted in the creation of an incarceration society, mass incarceration of people of color, continuing forms of punishment for many once their terms of imprisonment have ended, and the creation of a profit-producing prison-industrial complex, a network of public and private officials and entities who tangibly benefit from more policing, prosecution, and punishment.
Characteristics of Restorative/Transformational Justice Approaches
There is no monolithic approach to restorative/transformational justice initiatives.
Some initiatives emphasize community involvement and are intended to eventually replace the harsh punishment/expanded policing orientation of the criminal legal system, while others are designed to work wholly within that system, as a more recent feature of it. There are many "blended" approaches that involve the criminal legal system, but also have components that operate independently.
Some initiatives look beyond individuals to examine and seek to address the social conditions in which violence regularly occurs, while many others do not.
Even so, some values/commitments are largely shared – but to varying degrees and in different ways.
• Greater focus on harm/wrongdoing/fracture in positive relationships among individuals and in the community and on impacts of same; less emphasis on lawbreaking as an abstract concept.
• Focus on repairing harm caused by violence and wrongdoing, to the extent possible.
• Commitment to short- and long-term safety, healing, and constructive support for survivors
• Focus on accountability/acceptance of responsibility and positive transformation for people who harm others; less emphasis on “punishment.”
• Not restricted to courtrooms; survivors and those responsible for harm may voluntarily choose to meet face to face in a mediated/facilitated non-courtroom setting. Other relevant community members may also have a role in processes.
• Active rather than passive involvement of all parties in the processes wherever possible; encouraging a sense of agency in ordinary people.
• Outcome focus on mitigation of harm and prevention of harm, and on positive outcomes for survivors and those who have engaged in wrongdoing.
"In too many cases, restorative justice concepts. . .have been grafted onto federal and state criminal justice systems essentially as an embellishment, while failing to alter the system’s foundation of violence, coercion, and retribution. In such cases – and they are not infrequent – victim–offender mediation programs may open the door to new types of humiliation and psychic battering. Restitution programs are often added onto long periods of incarceration as an additional form of punishment and may leave offenders with a crushing burden of debt. ‘Alternatives to incarceration’ may become a backdoor approach to penalty enhancements when criminal justice authorities utilize them as an add-on rather than a true alternative…
“Many of the most prominent advocates. . .are economically secure, largely white reformers. Usually, poor communities and communities of color are not full partners. . .in defining the meaning of restorative justice or in framing attempts to put this vision into practice. . .In the world of social advocacy, privileges, including economic privilege and white skin privilege, are very real barriers that limit the vision and distort the discussion of any initiative that does not fully reflect the experience, the felt needs, the voice, and the leadership of those who must live with the results. When professional advocates substitute for the affected constituency, the vision of reform they work toward is most often overtaken by the inexorable logic of injustice, exclusion, and retribution. . .
“Without the active ownership of a much broader constituency, [a healing justice vision] is reduced to an empty husk, a new garment to cloak the intact structures of injustice.”
––excerpt from In a Time of Broken Bones: A Call to Dialogue on Hate Violence & the Limitations of Hate Crimes Legislation (pdf download), American Friends Service Committee, 2001.