The Application of Peacemaking Criminology

The following research paper was for my Criminology class. We had to choose from the various types of criminology and assess it and report on it. I have a big interest in peacemaking criminology, which includes transformative and restorative justice, because the retributive model of criminal justice is a failure. It rips apart families and communities especially with vice laws.

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The Application of Peacemaking Criminology by Reagen Dandridge Desilets is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The Application of Peacemaking Criminology

Reagen Dandridge Desilets

Trident Technical College

13FA CRJ125 Criminology (W01)

November 11, 2013


Within social conflict theories lies the realm of peacemaking criminology. Peacemaking criminology seeks to end crime through transformative and restorative justice methods to help people become more “whole” again. It focuses on healing families currently touched by crime in an effort to break a cycle that repeats itself the way things currently operate. By looking at research already available as well as current programs running with the same or similar goals, one can determine its effective and worthiness of investment of time and funds.

 The Application of Peacemaking Criminology

There is a set of theories in criminology that promote ideas such as restorative justice instead of retributive justice. In the face of the failures of retributive justice, such as the high incarceration and recidivism rates (Hartney, 2006) (Langan & Levin, 2002), it is time to try something else and peacemaking theories provide a radically different path to justice. There are efforts in place for the application of transformative and restorative justice already underway. Some of these include Philly Stands Up, a collective working with sex crime offenders and victims for healing and transformation (Philly Stands Up, 2010); Critical Resistance, a movement challenging the belief that “caging and controlling people makes us safe” (Critical Resistance, 2013); and 360 Degrees, a team dedicated to changing public perception of the nation’s prisoners in the hopes of being able to help analyze what works and what doesn’t (360 Degrees, 2011). Other countries have delved into this as well including Cuba (Political Research Associates, 2005) with a focus on intense offender rehabilitation and community integration and New Zealand (Schmid, 2001) with a focus on restoration for both victim and offender. Focuses in restorative and transformative justice could include things such as family conferencing, family violence court, mental health court, drug assessment and aid panels, and victim offender reconciliation programs (Barnes).

Having roots in ancient Arab, Greek, and Roman civilizations (Braithwaite, 1999) restorative justice can encompass many things ranging from victim services to help them heal, up through offender integrative programs such as community service instead of prison for an offense (Kurki, 2000). The phrase is commonly used interchangeably with community justice since the focus of restitution is primarily on community service and offender integration. The monopoly that various levels of government have on the prison industrial complex is let go of with restorative justice in favor of locals handling services and restitution to victims, keeping the needs of those most closely affected by the offense on the top of the list of what is important. Healing for all involved is the focus of restorative justice instead of revenge, such as with the current retributive justice model. Restorative justice focuses on the shared values of a community for healing justice while retributive justice concerns itself with power and status in the imposition of punishments of offenders (Wenzel, Okimoto, & Feather, 2008).

It was stated early on in this nation’s history that local forms of government should be concerned with local matters and that centralizing power can be a dangerous path to take (Jefferson, 2011). This includes everything from federal, to state, to county, to city levels, down to the individual person and their farm. Perhaps leaving the people in the smaller community in charge more so than federal, state, and county level courts and detention centers would help improve the increasingly difficult situation in regards to incarceration in the United States. Each community has very specific needs and desires in regards to every aspect of their lives. What would work in Los Angeles may not work for Knoxville and what works in Honolulu may not work in Anchorage. That can be further subdivided into individual neighborhoods as well. What works for an inner city type of neighborhood may not be able to work with solutions utilized in a middle class or upper class section of the same city. The idea is that the people truly control the criminal justice system and can customize it to better meet their needs as much as the victim’s needs and the offender’s needs.

Most people would not have a difficult time understanding and wanting to meet the needs of a victim. Recently, the victim has begun to become a better focus in criminal justice whereas before, they were more or less just treated as a source of evidence (Henderson, 1985). Many jurisdictions have set up their own victim advocacy programs to help assist victims, such as the South Carolina State Office of Victim Assistance, also known as SOVA (SOVA).  They offer programs that help victims do anything from counseling, to tending to monetary needs as a result of crime, to updates on offender activities (such as when being released from prison) and more. They also have outreach programs to the general public to bring about awareness about victim advocacy and what it brings to those in need of help. There are numerous other jurisdictions that have begun victim-centered restitution ideas with a good deal of success. The more those in the criminal justice system, such as police, prosecutors and judges, learn of the losses victims suffer, the more they can help them find the resources to heal and experience a real sense of justice in their lives (Ruback & Shaffer, 2005). It is a fairly new concept in the story of the American justice system, but one that most people support without a second thought. Previously, while the offender was afforded every right under the Constitution, victims rarely had help and their treatment was more “cold” rather than “professional” as viewed by a victim (Henderson, 1985). Some victims, especially rape victims, may have even suffered injustice during the retributive justice process (Feild, 1979). The appearance and presentation of both offender and victim may influence the jurors and serve to sway them, whether they realize it or not, to vote in favor of whomever they personally like as opposed to depending on the evidence alone. There may still be issues in regards to victims getting the help they need (Henderson, 1985), but it is evolving and growing, especially with the emergence of restorative justice.

More difficult, however, may be spreading a message that offenders have needs not being met as well. As previously mentioned, offenders are offered a lot to help in their defense and always at the taxpayer’s expense (Henderson, 1985), including the victim’s. They get an attorney, even when they cannot afford one, and then are housed during trial and after sentencing to a jail or prison. They are given food and other basic necessities including health care, where some people outside of prison, including victims, may not have access to such resources. It is not hard to understand how a victim may feel re-traumatized by the entire process and how the public at large may view offenders as already getting what they need. What more could be done for an offender and how would it affect the victim as well as the community at large? Methods to keep ties to the community would go a long way to keeping an offender from falling into further, and likely increasingly violent, crime as a result of time in prison. For example, a father being able to stay in constant contact with his family outside of prison would go a long way to keeping those bonds tight and give him a reason to work towards community integration and stay away from crime (Political Research Associates, 2005). Working outside of a prison would give the offender a learned job skill and would help to increase his chances of successfully keeping that job when his time is served. Restorative measures would have, under a consensual arrangement, the offender and victim work together for victim restitution which may increase the offender’s awareness and empathy (Schmid, 2001). Offenders are treated as equal human beings with needs just as much as the victims and society at large and their needs.

An example of how a community can better affect offender outcome is that it is not hard to see that there is a large disparity in minority representation in prison versus outside populations (Hartney, 2006). Being able to focus on the needs of each community, which may have larger minority populations may help bring a reduction in harm in the community (Jenkins, 2006). It has been shown that different neighborhoods can have different struggles that can greatly affect crime levels (Peterson & Krivo, 2009). There are a number of high minority populated communities that suffer from a number of social and economic disadvantages and trying to overcome those conditions tends to lead to criminal activity. So, for example, someone trying to obtain money to better their position in life and provide for their families can easily turn to the black market activities of drug and gun trade to do that quickly and efficiently. Robbery and burglary are other methods of quickly attaining money. Motive for that can range from a drug addiction needing to be fed to rent needing to be paid. With restorative justice, there is a far better chance of the offender being able to, not only make restitution to the victim, but to better their situation in life and integrate back into the community. Offers for counseling, drug rehabilitation, learning job skills and more can be offered to an offender to better themselves and contribute to the community.

Empowerment and transformation are powerful motivators for success, particularly for those that feel disenfranchised or oppressed. In Afghanistan, there was launched a program to stimulate “transformative learning” in the rural communities. It focused on building up the nation’s infrastructure (Affolter, Richter, Daudzai, Massood, & Rahimi, 2009). It proved that the methods used, which included transformative learning as well as “mind-change”, a process of getting people to rethink customary thought processes regarding an issue of importance and thinking in new ways, helped to give the people a sense of pride and project ownership. This pushed them to become more proactive in dealing with local development problems. This is a great example of how restorative justice models can work and motivate people to improve, not just their own lives, but the lives of those around them in their community.

To further look at peacemaking criminology as a whole, John Fuller listed a “Peacemaking Pyramid Paradigm” that shows the overall philosophy in peacemaking criminology (Barnes). They include the following:

  1. Nonviolence – For example, peacemaking criminology is opposed to the death penalty. It cites that the premeditated violence (murder) of the offender is just as wrong as the offender’s violence.
  2. Social justice – Social justice would be able to tackle issues such as racism, sexism, and inequalities in the community.
  3. Inclusion – There is more at stake in justice than just the offender versus the state. The victim and their families as well as the offender and their families have a stake in what happens. There may be others in the communities that are willing to step in and offer alternatives. The state handling the justice paradigm robs these people of the chance to find a unique and creative solution to the problems at hand. Inclusion offers longer lasting solutions than just sending someone off to prison.
  4. Correct means – “The ends don’t justify the means.” This is very true and something that is of particular interest to peacemaking criminology. Settling cases may leave someone feeling victimized in one way or another. A victim may feel a lack of justice when an offender pleas out and an offender that is innocent and fearing a lengthy prison sentence may also plea out to get less time to serve. These are not acceptable means (force) to get to an end (clearance rates).
  5. Ascertainable criteria – This issue surrounds language barriers in the justice system. This includes immigrants that are not familiar with the English language as well as legal jargon heard in the court room. There must be an understanding of the procedures and the terms being used. One cannot effectively participate in anything if they do not understand what is going on. This method seeks to fully inform all parties involved of what is happening.
  6. Categorical imperative – This is based on Kant’s concept of the categorical imperative. People know what will happen and can guess the outcome. This would be “an underlying philosophy of nonviolence and social justice throughout the criminal justice system.” Everyone involved including offenders, victims, and the public would be treated with the “respect and dignity we all deserve.” Peacemaking criminology “aims at providing true equality under the law that is tempered by appositive view of humankind.” It does not treat society higher than victim and victim higher than offender. We are all the same and are in this together.

Perhaps the answer to the problems that ail the American criminal justice system are rooted in the communities and the people that are most affected by crime. Not the judges, not the police departments, not the prison administrators. Perhaps looking inward is the best way to move forward. This can work to not only improve the lives of the victims and offenders of crime but also heal the communities in which these people live. Bridges can be built by one person reaching out to another. The more the people in these communities learn to transform and experience a “mind-change”, the more proactive and involved they can become. This will help to keep several categories of people out of America’s jails and prisons and keep them at home with their families who need them. Their bonds with family and community can be maintained and their life skills can be changed. In the meantime, the victim-centered process of restitution can also take place where people see each other’s faces on a day-to-day basis, keeping accountability at the forefront of restitution and resolution enforcement.

Considering the ancient roots of restorative justice (Braithwaite, 1999), and considering the failures of the retributive model, such as lack of victim care and offender rehabilitation, then it is not a stretch to see that peacemaking theories in criminology are a viable and even necessary step to take moving into the future. Our prison numbers need to shrink and our communities need to heal. We can do this without suffering the oppressive costs of prison operation and upkeep. It is possible that there will always be a place for prisons for those that refuse to collaborate with their communities, but until we get nonviolent offenders and rehabilitative offenders out of prisons, and until victims have a real sense of restitution, families across America will continue to be break and never heal. The cycle repeats.


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