Agency, an anarchist PR project, provides key talking points and a resource list for media on why anarchists support restorative justice and transformative justice practices
Why do anarchists advocate for restorative justice and transformative justice as alternatives to policing and prisons? Anarchists reject State authority in all its forms, including the criminal legal system. They believe in self-organization, autonomy, and finding ways to address social conflict and harmful behavior through restorative justice and transformative justice practices that emphasize individual and collective healing and accountability, rather than criminalizing and incarcerating people through a punitive system that perpetuates cycles of harm.
While the concepts of restorative justice and transformative justice and criticisms of policing and prison systems have gained visibility over the past few years, misconceptions of the terms are common, with many believing they equate to “no justice.” In fact, restorative and transformative frameworks seek to address the root causes of harm, and find meaningful ways to bring justice and peace to all involved, unlike the criminal legal system, which often only exacerbates the problems and trauma.
Additionally, there is little understanding of the anarchist perspective on restorative justice and transformative justice, even though advocating for alternatives to the criminal legal system is part of the historical tradition and ethical positions inherent in anarchist thought. The following brief seeks to provide a clear outline of what restorative justice and transformative justice are and how they relate to anarchism.
Why Anarchists Oppose State-Sanctioned Justice Systems:
- Anarchists believe in cooperation, not coercion. This is driven by a belief in personal freedom and collective responsibility. Anarchism is fundamentally anti-authoritarian and seeks to create a world where all people live free from domination and oppression.
- The criminal legal system necessitates coercion and violence to maintain control over populations. This allows the State to ignore the numerous factors—poverty, inequality, access to housing and healthcare, etc.—that may result in people engaging in harmful acts which require more complex, structural solutions than pointing a weapon at someone or locking them in a cage.
- The US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and holds the second largest number of incarcerated people with nearly 2 million living in prisons or jails(1). Part of the argument for this is that it will deter crime through punitive and retributive measures. Yet, even with the surge of mass incarceration since the 1970s, there is little evidence that harsh punishments and incarceration are effective at preventing crime.
- The design of the criminal legal system is incarceration and punishment, not rehabilitation, despite the fact that the vast majority of people who have been incarcerated will at some point rejoin society. People often come out of the prison system without the resources required to get back on their feet. They also reenter a society that deeply stigmatizes formerly incarcerated people who are likely to experience negative impacts on their physical and mental health as well as their financial stability. Imprisonment leads to lower incomes, difficulties obtaining work, food and housing insecurity—all of which increases the likelihood of someone returning to prison. Recidivism rates in the U.S. are some of the highest in the world; in a study across 34 states by the Justice Department, 46% of people released from incarceration in 2012 returned to prison within their first year out(2).
- The criminal legal system targets people of color, low-income communities, undocumented people, queer and trans people, and other marginalized populations. Black men are 6 times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, and Latinx / Hispanic men are 2.5 times as likely(3).
- Mass incarceration also harms the families and communities of those who are imprisoned. Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to struggle in school and experience mental and physical health challenges.
- Prisons are sites of extreme violence and control, resulting in trauma and continuing cycles of harm. Anarchists believe in prison abolition.
What is Restorative Justice and How Does it Relate to Anarchism and Abolition?