Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Unlocking the Legal System from Vengeance, Harm, and Punitive Justice: Toward a Compassionate Revolution of Peace, Caring, and Unitive Justice

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Unlocking the Legal System from Vengeance, Harm, and Punitive Justice: Toward a Compassionate Revolution of Peace, Caring, and Unitive Justice

Article excerpt


This article explores Sylvia Clute's book: Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for A Compassionate Revolution. Based upon her experiences as a former trial attorney who worked twenty-eight years in the American legal system, Ms. Clute identified two forms of justice: punitive justice and unitive justice. Drawing upon the analysis in this book, this article will first show how we are "becoming our own jailers" through ongoing implementation of punitive justice. Second, the benefits of unitive justice over punitive justice are considered in terms of core concepts, defining characteristics, and outcomes. Third, it is demonstrated how punitive justice and unitive justice are built upon organizing principles of duality and oneness, respectively. The article concludes by illustrating ways societal institutions can be transformed with the principles of oneness, peacemaking, and unitive justice as an alternative to philosophies of duality, vengeance, and punitive justice, which prevail in current society.


Within the cover of Sylvia Clute's book, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call fora Compassionate Revolution, various reviewers praised its analysis. For example, it was observed that this book:

* Does a remarkable job of providing a vision of hope and healing in the midst of enormous cruelty, injustice, and harm affecting millions of Americans-particularly those of color-caught up in our criminal justice system.

* Shines a spotlight on fundamental flaws in the American approach to crime and the American criminal justice system.

* Offers us a new vision of not only our legal system and all its criminal and civil litigation black holes, but of our society-indeed, our world as a whole.

* Speaks with the authority of experience in this compelling call for a holistic approach to justice in all its dimensions.

After working nearly thirty years as a trial attorney in the American legal system, Sylvia Cl ute found that, her training and work experiences in this field, influenced her to recognize the need for an alternative form of justice. In this current system, punitive justice indeed has prevailed for many years. According to Cl ute (2010: 40), it is the type of justice, which has the goal to "punish the guilty" and "seeks diminishment and the imposition of control to compliance among those accused of violating the norms of the institution; its answer to harm is more harm."

Conversely, as Clute (2010:40) observed, within unitive justice (although rarely, if ever, used in U.S. courtrooms):

Equity and balance are central to its process ... All participants honor one another, enhancing harm and goodwill in their interpersonal relations. Forgiving the past is mutually beneficial so that the present leads to a future free of anyone's bondage. Compassion and lovingkindness direct this form of justice and the outcome is a benefit to all.

Granted, within criminological literature, approaches to justice have been identified and addressed in various ways. Siegel (2008: 356-365), for example, described perspectives on justice in terms of: due process, just deserts, crime control, rehabilitation, restoration, and nonintervention. Likewise, Arrigo (1999) featured models of social and criminal justice including Marxist social justice, social feminist justice, peacemaking criminology, prophetic criticism, anarchist criminology, postmodern feminist criminology, semiotics, constitutive criminology, critical race theory, chaos theory, catastrophe topology theory and queer theory. A recent analysis of street justice (Downing, 2011) featured the perspectives of retributive justice, distributive justice, procedural justice, actuarial justice, and restorative justice.

All these examples of justice approaches are brought up to acknowledge the complexity of issues linked with the notion of justice in terms of scholarly writings and direct criminal justice practice. …

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