International Restorative Justice week 2020: The post COVID19 era
Happy International Restorative Justice Week 2020!
First, congratulations to all the practitioners, researchers and campaigners who kept the restorative justice flame burning. It is important for everyone who works within the restorative justice movement to pause and take stock of what we have done (or not done), and this week is a unique opportunity to do so. I have been writing an annual #RJweek blog since 2012, when I first thought that restorative justice should be celebrated not only in Canada, but around the world. I was a guest at my friend's (Dr. Evelyn Zellerer) house in Vancouver, as I was visiting after an invitation from Dr. Brenda Morrison to give a lecture as part of the Bruce and Lis Welch Community Dialogue. This was held in partnership with the SFU Centre for Restorative Justice (for my #RJweek blog 2017 here, 2016 here, 2015 here).
Times were different then, but this year has been particularly hard as the world experienced a pandemic, which forced us to learn not only how to live and work differently, but also how to co-exist in confined places. The lockdown (which is far from over) has had multiple impacts with many vulnerable women, children and ... yes ... men suffering increased domestic violence and new forms of abuse. It is also expected that COVID19's socio-economic impact will be as detrimental as its health and death implications, compared only with the aftermath of World War II.
As the post COVID19 era is upon us, I must ask what the role of restorative justice is in bringing healing and restoration to the suffering that we have all experienced at a personal, community, national and international levels. As part of this questioning, I have launched a new Call for Paper for a Special Issue that Laws Journal has agreed to publish next year. I welcome all sorts of contributions - see here.
Every year, we learn something new about restorative justice, a concept that seems to be spreading without barriers or limitations. And I was really impressed to see and read about some innovative approaches to restorative justice, which seems to be a concept that has learn to adapt to its surrounding ensuring its survival even against the deadly virus. Despite our government's regulations and social distancing restrictions, communities still found ways to hold restorative justice meetings whether these were done online, at home, out in the parks and through letters and emails!
Many have written about the need for restorative justice to be supported by the mainstream criminal justice system and governments in order to survive and indeed contribute to justice. As a champion of community-led solutions and the founder of 2 charities aiming to re-balance power in society, I never believed this claim. In fact, what drew me to restorative justice in the first place was its promise for fairness without the need for formalised structures. As a criminal lawyer, I have seen first hand the limitations of courts, prisons and the justice system, and thus the restorative justice principle of power sharing always fascinated. I truly believe it is the "bio-power" that may be able to fix some of our criminal justice flaws or at least complement what is on the justice table.
As we explore new areas of restorative justice, we must remain evidence-based and avoid the enchanting music and singing voices of the Sirens. Restorative justice is neither a cheaper option, nor a populist idea that can be manipulated for political or financial gains. It is a community notion that has existed long before we created our first top-down governance structures, and when acephalous societies put relationships first and then individual interests.
I have always advocated in favour of work (research, policy or practice) that advances the restorative justice movement even if it means accepting some realities and indeed limitations. This has not always been welcomed even by so called restorative justice champions and leading restorative justice organisations. I am not popular within the restorative justice field, but this does not worry me.
What worries me are the unfounded claims that I often read about restorative justice, and which may lead to harming practices that hijack the restorative essence.
We are also living in an era of globalisation, and yet fear and jingoism. Often I feel that the road that we have taken is leading international society to becoming more polarised than ever. Independently of your political allegiance (or indifference), we must accept the unexpected changes in the USA, UK and Europe. I recently spoke about the Forces of Power and Control and the Death of democracy as we know it. I was accused of spreading doom and gloom, when our communities are in need of hope and inspiration. I must apologise as my intentions were, in fact, the opposite. There can be no construction without deconstruction and the acknowledgement of the change we are all facing. My fear is that we are still in denial collectively and individually.
This collective denial must stop as communities need restorative justice now more than ever.
COVID19 may have brought long-term damages to everyone independently of location, background or status, but it has also created something wonderful. And this is the opportunity to unite and innovate. I saw more volunteers supporting our work at the RJ4All International Institute, than ever before, while many funders, donors and philanthropists united to support poverty relief and ease suffering. The response of the community and charities has been unprecedented and the mobilisation of the individual capital and especially youth has been inspiring. It is time that we stop old bad habits and use this opportunity for a fresh debate that rejects obsolete labels including "victims", "offenders" and crime.
* Every year, the RJ4All International Institute makes freely available a number of resources (articles, books, videos etc) on restorative justice. To access them click here