What Should Criminal Justice Look Like? #1

Last semester, I spent every Tuesday evening inside Macomb Correctional Facility. I was part of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, a class about mass incarceration where half the students go to U-M and half are incarcerated at the men’s state prison. In that class, I examined our criminal justice system in depth for the first time and came to see the damage mass incarceration does to individuals, families, communities, and the United States as a whole.

Our current criminal justice system also fails to provide justice for crime victims. When someone is victimized, they have important needs: understanding why the crime happened, assurance that it will not happen to them or anyone else again, support as they process the trauma, etc. These needs are left unmet by a system that in general sees justice essentially as just punishing the perpetrator.

If our criminal justice system’s reliance on incarceration and punishment does not serve victims, criminal offenders, or communities, what are our alternatives? One is restorative justice. This is an approach that seeks to repair the harm done by crime instead of merely punishing it. Restorative justice also aims to get people who’ve committed crimes to truly understand the impact of their actions, and thus take true responsibility.

The Hands of Wonder Garden Program teaches restorative justice principles to teenagers who are on probation. It involves three hours a day of working together in a community garden, growing food that will be donated to local food banks. We share a meal and then have three hours of sessions focused on how to positively contribute to the community. I already love the internship, and I’m excited about the chance to see restorative justice in action. Maybe I’ll even end up working for a similar program after I graduate next year.

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