Are you friends or acquaintances with a professor? They’re interesting to study up close. All holed up in their ivory towers with cushy tenures, they get to scratch their beards all day while we mere mortals slog through life worried about how many times we can make rice and beans before the children rise up in anarchy.
Mikhail Lyubansky, psychology professor at the University of Illinois, is just such a beard scratcher (sans the beard). He’s a really nice guy, but I wonder what effect low oxygen and a high altitude has had on his mind since up in that tower for so long. Because when he came to me with news of a project with the radical notion that we could do away with the modern-day penal system, you know, because it’s racist, and all volunteer for a restorative justice system, everyone could live in a world of perfect harmony like the Coke commercial prophecy.
What is “restorative justice?” Put simply, there’s no punitive punishment for people who commit crimes; rather, the focus is on making things all better for the victim, and sitting the wrong-doer down for a good talking to in hopes that he/she won’t do it again.
In his piece published in Psychology Today online titled, “Our Penal System Requires Us to Punish Wrongdoers. What If There Was a Better Way?” He says:
For those of us living in the United States, “doing justice” is mostly synonymous with administering punishment. We may not literally follow the Biblical edict of “an eye for an eye”, but most of us still believe that “the punishment must fit the crime”. Indeed, many of us would be hard pressed to even come up with an alternative justice system.
Yet alternatives abound in the form of restorative justice.
There are many restorative justice systems. The one I’ve been studying is Restorative Circles (RC), a system developed by Dominic Barter in the shanty towns of urban Brazil and now spreading across the world as a means of promoting and facilitating social justice, group cohesion,resilient relationships and personal healing.
Restorative Circles provide a way for individuals and communities to handle conflicts, including racial conflicts, compassionately rather than punitively, as well as to heal and learn from these conflicts. These days when I say I want justice, this is the kind of justice system I have in mind — a system that values everyone’s needs and is designed to address those needs without either blame or compromise1.
I scheduled a time for me to interroga…urhm…I meant, interview him, and when you boss goes out for her three-hour lunch break, you have GOT to listen to this and tell me what you think.
All the time we’re talking, I’m thinking, “Dude, have you been to the hood?!” And without even thinking about it, and without any malice, he joins the group of bleeding-heart liberals who inadvertently throw black women under the bus because the penal system is racist against minorities (AKA black men). A system of no consequences for people who would shoot you dead for a Louis Vuitton purse flies in the face of logic for me. The idea of restoring justice to an 11-year-old girl who’s been brutally raped by more than a dozen men is mind boggling. How do you restore a soul? How do you restore a life that’s been squished out because someone just felt like it? And what criminal is going to let you sit there a talk him to death?
Dr. Lyubansky tells me that restorative justice is already being applied in the hoods and shanties of Brazil, and it’s being done effectively. But when I asked how many people populate the area, he couldn’t say. I mean, if your shanty town has like, 100 people in it, then Kumbaya restorative justice might, could, maybe work. But I have some serious misgivings about how such a bold idea could be put into practice without taking to account that victims might not want to talk to the spawn of BeBe after he just ran a car through your living room. If there are no jails, no police, and no fear of punishment for the bad guys, who will protect the women and children at risk of being beaten, battered and raped?
Maybe in the land of gumdrops and candy princesses, where sociopathy, apathy, gang crime and domestic abusers don’t exist, but I don’t there’s a chance in Candyland this practice could work in Watts. How do I know? I lived there for a year.
But if you live in the Chicago area and want to talk to Dr. L and his pal, Dominic Barter, there’s an upcoming forum on October 12-16. For details and more information about restoractive justice, click here.
I know you’re itching–so…sound off.