By Betty Brown and Al Miller
Having read and discussed Michele Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness we concur with reviewers who describe it as both devastating and an instant classic. We agree with Cornel West who sees it as “the secular bible for a new social movement” leading to a “democratic awakening focused on the poor and vulnerable in American society.”
Understanding “restorative justice,” the subject of our June meeting, is useful background for considering how we can constructively relate to such a new social movement. Reading Michele Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, should convince all of us of the need for such a new social movement.
What is restorative justice?
Restorative justice “holds that criminal behavior is primarily a violation of one individual by another. When a crime is committed, it is the victim who is harmed, not the state; instead of the offender owing a ‘debt to society’ which must be expunged by experiencing some form of state-imposed punishment, the offender owes a specific debt to the victim which can only be repaid by making good the damage caused.”
What constitutes appropriate reparation is decided through a process of negotiation involving not only the offender and the victim but the respective families and social networks who have also been harmed by the criminal act.
The ultimate aim of restorative justice is one of healing. Through receiving appropriate reparation, the harm done to the victim can be redressed; by making good the damage caused, the offender can be reconciled with the victim and reintegrated back into his/her social and familial networks; and through such reconciliation and reintegration, community harmony can be restored.”