The purpose of wise justice is to maintain and restore wholeness and balance in relationships and community. Punishment, and even rehabilitation, do not achieve this. So promote true healing of both crimes and systemic social injustice with honest communication among victims, offenders, and communities as well as any needed amends and cultural and systemic changes.
Related: 4 Big Empathy, 39 Multiple Perspective View, 47 Proposals Emergent, 57 Story Sharing, 64 Using Diversity and Disturbance Creatively, 68 Whole System in the Conversation, 70 Working Through Feelings
Going Deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
Usually the justice system, at least in the United States, is around 80-90% about catching criminals, punishing them, trying them, making sure they are guilty if they can, and then putting them in jail or killing them in some cases. This is not the kind of justice that a wise democracy is interested in. If you are trying to create long-term broad benefits, those broad benefits need to include the healing of damage that was done and the transformation of relationships that were torn by the damage that was done. So what we’re looking for here is renewed or newly created wholeness and balance.
So when somebody does something to somebody else, having them really hear each other’s experience is central. It doesn’t necessarily demand forgiveness. Very often forgiveness happens, but that’s not the point. The point is to fully hear each other, to have the different parties involved to be able to experience each other’s world, and to have the larger community present, too. Any harm that is done also harms the community – and the community was somehow involved in what happened. The larger system is part of the situation. People are isolated from each other or somebody was disrespected. Tremendous amounts of violent crime arise from shame, from people being disrespected or put down in various ways. Research shows that shame underlies most violent crime.
So the larger community, the larger society, needs to see itself as a collective entity that needs healing, and that needs to take responsibility. That’s the kind of thing you’re looking for in the conversations here: to have people really hear each other and take responsibility, to become conscious parts of both what happened and what is going to happen next, whatever that may be. So the healing is a coming back into a place where we can all take our proper role in making a positive difference in what’s going on.
Sometimes punishment changes people for the better but more often punishment just solidifies or worsens existing patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. Somebody may have committed a minor crime and got put into a major prison. They learn from other prisoners how to defend themselves, how to fight, how to get their way when somebody else is stopping or messing with them. They may also be abused in the present situation where maybe they weren’t before and start developing patterns that are more defensive and violent than they had when they went into prison. Or in some cases they are learning violent ideologies. So the idea that punishment is simply a matter of “if you are afraid of punishment you will behave yourself” or “if you are punished you will change” – there’s a grain of truth in those ideas, but that grain is not nearly as large as we usually think. An awful lot of people end up going back in prison after they’ve been released – around 70% in the U.S.