Why I became hooked by Restorative Justice
A blog by Sula Blankenberg – Data Insight and Digital Marketing Officer at Why me?
Due to the predominantly punitive nature of the criminal justice system and against the backdrop of Brexit, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the Covid-19 pandemic, there has never been a more important time to talk about Restorative Justice (RJ). Restorative Justice is a social approach to justice and resolution that allows people affected by crime to communicate with the person responsible, often with the aim of a face to face meeting.
I first became aware of Restorative Justice when I was doing my Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Sussex. Throughout my degree, I felt that there was a big focus on law, policy, and punishment which I found interesting, but as a black woman, I was more compelled by the flaws in the system and understanding how different services can address these flaws. I signed up for a Restorative Justice module taught by Professor Mark Walters, and I never looked back. Through the module, I was able to learn about the importance of Restorative Justice and how it can be applied to various situational contexts, and even placed outside the criminal justice system, such as in schools and the workplace. I was also able to get a better understanding of the use of Restorative Justice on an international scale, especially in countries that have experienced violations of human and cultural rights. This helped me to appreciate the indigenous roots of Restorative Justice, and how it has helped to shape the implementation of truth and reconciliation commissions, such as the one in South Africa after the end of Apartheid.
Last year, the brutal police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in the US, sparked international outrage and highlighted the ongoing tensions and mistrust that black and brown people in many countries in the West, including the UK, feel towards the police. Not only are black and brown people overrepresented in the criminal justice system as both victim and offender, but they are also underrepresented in the criminal justice and youth justice workforce. In England and Wales, data from the Ministry of Justice shows that as of March 2020, 27% of the total prison population were of Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, despite the fact that they only make up 16% of the general population.
Recognizing and acknowledging the systematic and institutional flaws of the criminal justice system provides an opportunity for alternative solutions, like Restorative Justice, to be further explored and considered as an essential service for victims and especially black and brown people who have been failed by the criminal justice system. Restorative Justice has the power to repair community relationships, reduce re-offending rates, and give people a voice and a safe space to speak their truths.
There are still many challenges that Restorative Justice faces, including the fact that black and brown people are less likely to accept the support offered by a system that they feel actively oppresses them, a subject which our Director Lucy Jaffe wrote about last November. In order to build trust, Restorative Justice needs to keep adapting and incorporating new ways to protect and support those who have been wronged. We need to be having conversations within our communities and looking for flaws in criminal institutions, listening to the personal experiences of others, and sharing good practice to implement real systematic change.