“Justice, justice you shall pursue!”
Long before these words in the Bible were used as justification for everything from the death penalty to jails, to vigilante justice, and to mass persecutions, humanity has searched for the meaning of justice.
With so much ink and blood already spilled on the topic, what is there new to discuss?
A few things. A few things that can transform our approach to our criminal justice system.
Our current system, while better than those that preceded it, is rampant with injustice, is inhumane, and is generally ineffective at making lasting, positive change. It is punishment-oriented, individualistic and focuses only on snapshots in time. We look to the past to determine guilt and punishment, but we ignore the future and how we can help people not recommit crime. We focus on individuals’ actions, but ignore their history, their context, their relationships and their need for healing. We condemn and punish those who’ve broken certain laws, but we absolve the rest of society and our government of their responsibility in bringing about the conditions that lead to the commission of crime. We condone abuse of power by the police and other professionals in the criminal justice system, but we condemn even minor infractions, particularly by youth. We prohibit meaningful participation of those directly affected by a “criminal act” (offenders, victims, the community at large), and in so doing we alienate and dehumanize them, causing further injustice.
Most everyone feels that our justice system needs fixing. We have to face the failings of our current system so that we can have the will and courage to change it.
Our current approach does not work to make victims, offenders, or others feel that justice has been attained or that their lives have been restored and healed. We could, instead, have a system that engages those individuals, empowers them, holds them accountable to one another, and enables them to effect positive change in each others’ lives. We could have a system that, through its humanity, achieves the best form of justice.
Justice Requires Empathy is about an approach to criminal justice that requires us to seek the empathy that is within all of us. It is about an approach that requires us to truly understand and identify with people caught up in the process, especially offenders, so that we can help them, address the inequities that lead offenders to commit crime, enable them to become healers to their victims and allow victims to be healers to offenders. It is about an approach that aims to decrease the negative impact of crime and even to decrease crime itself. To truly achieve justice, equitableness, and fairness, we need to understand where people are coming from. We need empathy.
Before we can change our system for the better, we have to understand its shortcomings. As a result, on this site you will see postings about the many injustices and inequities within our criminal justice system. In particular, there will be postings on police abuse of power as well as institutional injustices. You will find articles that suggest alternatives and explore other, usually collaborative, systems of conflict resolution. You will also find exposés on the pros of cons of our current system as well as those of an empathy-based and collaborative system.
With empathy as our guide, we will explore ideas and ways to progress toward a justice system that is just, effective, and humane. A system based on empathy.