The criminal justice system asks three questions:
What law was broken? Who broke it? And what should the punishment be? Upon that edifice — and channeled through old bigotries and fears — we have built the largest system of human incarceration on earth. America accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its imprisoned population.
Restorative justice asks different questions:
Who was harmed? What do they need? And whose obligation is it to meet those needs? It is a radically different model, with profoundly different results both for victims and perpetrators. Studies show restorative justice programs leave survivors more satisfied, cut recidivism rates, and cost less. If we’re thinking about rebuilding the criminal justice program, restorative justice should be central to that conversation.
sujatha baliga is the director of the Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice. She won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2019. She’s a survivor of abuse herself. Her work points toward a new paradigm for criminal justice: one focused on repairing breaches, not exacting retribution. And it carries lessons for how our politics might function, how our society could heal some of its oldest wounds, and how we live our own precious lives.