Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy

Looking at Justice through a Lens of Healing and Reconnection

Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy

Looking at Justice through a Lens of Healing and Reconnection

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

On March 10, 2017, more than 300 people gathered in Lincoln Hall, the oldest lecture hall at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, for the 10th Annual Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy (JLSP) Symposium, "Healing Our Justice System: Restorative Justice and the Law." They sat in hard, old-fashioned, wooden booths, light shining through stained glass windows that represent graduating law school classes dating back to 1860.1 The group stood in sharp contrast to those who historically filled these seats in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, background, and diversity of roles. Activists, organizers, educators, community advocates, police officers, probation officers, social workers, therapists, and others joined lawyers and law students to reflect on justice and healing.

This is the story of the Symposium. We intentionally use the term "story" because storytelling is at the heart of restorative justice. Storytelling expresses who we are and allows us to connect with others: "The shortest distance between two people is a story."2 Legal frameworks often value quantifiable, evidence-based research and data while discounting the validity of stories. In sharing our story, we seek to challenge this notion.3

In this piece, we hope to capture the wisdom and perspectives gathered at the Symposium. We strive to honor the restorative value of speaking from our own experiences. We acknowledge differences in perspectives about many of the issues raised both during the Symposium and in this story, and we invite questions, disagreement, dialogue, and accountability.

Because the Symposium focused on restorative justice,4 understanding the concept is an important starting point. Defining "restorative justice" is challenging because of differing and overlapping theoretical foundations and conceptions.5 While the diversity contributes to a dynamic and evolving concept, it also creates a level of confusion and conflict.6 Examples of definitions include:

Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.7

[R]estorative justice [is] a philosophy and way of life-more than a technique or process. It is seen as a completely different paradigm for being in relationship, whether the relationship is with those close to us or those we don't know, with individuals, groups, peoples, or nations, and with humans or others of the natural world.8

Restorative justice is a way of responding to criminal behavior by balancing the needs of the community, the victims and the offenders. It is an evolving concept that has given rise to different interpretation in different countries, one around which there is not always perfect consensus.9

Another challenge in explaining restorative justice is that it is a philosophy rather than a single practice or program.10 Accordingly, its development has been fragmented, occurring in multiple geographic locations at various points in time and resulting in a nonlinear evolution.11 Every practice, including family group conferencing, peacemaking circles, and victim-offender dialogue, has its own distinctive history.12 Many people and communities are a part of restorative justice history.13

The modern restorative justice movement is viewed as relatively young.14 Albert Eglash is credited with first using the term "restorative justice" in articles published in 1958,15 and histories tend to focus on the development of Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs16 in North America in the 1970s.17 However, it is imperative to recognize that many Indigenous18 cultures have embodied the restorative justice philosophy since ancient times, long before the modern term was used.19 Too often there is little or no acknowledgment given to these Indigenous ties, and Indigenous voices are marginalized. …

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