Tuesday, January 27, 2009
For the first time in history, according to a recent study by the Pew Center on the States, more than one in every 100 adults in the U.S. is in jail or prison. There has not been, however, a correlating decrease in crime. “The education system, particularly for inner-city youth where the bulk of our prisoners come from, is abysmal,” Carol Fennelly, executive director of Hope House, a Washington, D.C.-based organization supporting prisoners’ families, told Sojourners. “We need real job opportunities and a reformed society in which people don’t end up in prison in the first place.” Here are some numbers:
* 67 percent: People released from prison who are re-arrested within three years.
* 32 percent: Increase in federal prisoners between 2000 and 2007, which coincides with the 454 new offenses added to the federal criminal code during that same period.
* 7.4 million. Number of people under the control of the U.S. criminal justice system in 2007.
* 83.5 percent: People in jail in 2002 who earned less than $2,000 per month prior to arrest.
* 64 percent: Increase in criminal justice-related government spending between 1996 and 2005, reaching a height of $213 billion in 2005.
Sources: “Moving Target: A Decade of Resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex” (Justice Policy Institute, September 2008); “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008” (The Pew Center on the States); The Washington Post. A Broken System. by Rose Marie Berger and Jeannie Choi. Sojourners Magazine, February 2009 (Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 10). Between the Lines.
These statistics are not only disturbing, they, in fact, graphically point out to us the impact of disparity. While we live in a wonderful country and most of us enjoy a good lifestyle, not all people in America share in that quality life, and those that don't are generally not white, middle or upper class, and mentally and physically healthy. As a result we need to admit that our legal system is racially and socioecominically constructed. Until we acknowledge this fundamental truth, we will not be able to create the profound change that is required to create an America where all people can flourish.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
We are empowered to think beyond ourselves, to imagine the more perfect union for which this compact was forged.
But as Obama himself reminded us Tuesday, stubborn facts crouch just offstage, waiting to pounce. We return to a minefield of tripwires ready to ensnare our hopes and dreams.
By chance, Tuesday evening I came upon some of those stubborn facts, in this issue of "Sojourners" magazine.
For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 adults in America is in jail or prison that's 2.3 million people. One reason? The leader of one organization working with prisoners' families told "Sojourners" that "The education system, particularly for inner-city youth where the bulk of our prisoners come from, is abysmal."
That statement sent me looking for a copy of Barack Obama's memoir "Dreams from My Father". I had met Obama just once, many years ago, when he was a community organizer in Chicago. Later, when I first read his book, I had been impressed that he was writing about what we had talked about the day of our visit. Here's the passage that stood out, describing his experience coming back to Chicago after his graduation from Harvard Law School:
"Upon my return to Chicago, I would find the signs of decay accelerated throughout the south side, the neighborhoods shabbier, the children edgier and less restrained, more middle-class families heading out to the suburbs, the jails bursting with glowering youth, my brothers without prospects. All too rarely do I hear people asking just what it is that we've done to make so many children's hearts so hard, or what collectively we might do to right their moral compass, what values we must live by. Instead I see us doing what we've always done, pretending that these children are somehow not our own."
That's the reality, crouched at Obama's door. Our door. Far too many members of this extended family, locked away, poor and in prison. So think of Chicago's South Side as a metaphor for our country today, a post-inaugural reminder, one of those stubborn facts of millions abandoned by the very democracy we celebrated on Tuesday.
Listening to this essay I was reminded once again why I am passionate about restorative justice and restorative practices in schools.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Today I want to share with you comments I received from a colleague in New Zealand about my recently-published article - Creating a School of Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of War and Violence. My colleague said:
Many thanks for a copy of your paper. Excellent observations in my view of the attitude to discipline and behaviour management in NZ schools – that is, discipline is the responsibility of someone other than the teacher who faces the problem.
I like your statement that schools struggle to balance accountability with compassion. From my experience, male secondary teachers do not exhibit too much compassion – I think they view this as showing weakness.
I believe this comment makes two important points - that compassion and accountability are not polar opposites; rather, the two ideas can work together in the process of healing the harm resulting from wrongdoing and conflict. And that compassion is not a sign of weakness; rather, comes out of strength and a unwavering belief in the dignity of every person as their birthright, which cannot be undone by their behavior nor the treatment of others.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
In America collaboration is often agenda driven. An individual has an agenda they want to accomplish and invites others to join in. However, this individual remains the dominant person in the relationship. The agenda determines the roles people have, rather than the relationships among people determining the agenda.
Living with Maori over an extended time has caused me to re-think my views about collaboration. And I wonder if perhaps a different word would be more appropriate for what we usually call collaboration in American - particularly since the meaning is lost cross-culturally.
Friday, January 9, 2009
However, I realize that not all people agree with me. Some believe that people are basically sinful and only something akin to a miracle can save us; that we only overcome this flawed nature through coercion, manipulation, or punishment. This belief is based on the work of Freud and his followers. In fact, our legal system is based on this idea.
If those of us who practice restorative justice focus solely or primarily on the pathology or deficit (what's wrong), we only confirm the person's inner conviction they are fundamentally flawed (bad) and ignore the part that is good, peace seeking, and relational. Thus, I suggest that our methods should favor growth and positive change from a strengths-based position.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
As a result I have adopted Appreciative Inquiry as a basis for my work with schools in a type of participatory action research. The three basic questions I ask school communities to answer is:
- What is going well?
- How would it look ideally?
- What steps can we begin to take now to move from where we are to where we want to be?
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I am impressed with both of these ideas because they go to the core of what my research shows - that is, that under the current systems of student discipline in schools we are treating students as passive receptors (of punishment). We are not building their capacity to solve problems nonviolently. So where do we think they will learn these important skills? And isn't knowing how to solve problems nonviolently (both individually and collectively) important for all of us to learn? For after all, if we do not know these important skills we tend to ignore the problem or expect someone else, usally an expert, to solve the problem for us. I believe we can and should take responsibility for building a more peaceful society by learning together how to respond to conflict and wrongdoing nonviolently.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
In this post 9/11 era Western cultures are focusing on values that support war and violence. In this article an ethnographer explores the impact of these values on schools. These values, seen through the lens of restorative justice, include: (a) punishment, (b) adversarial relationships, (c) monopolization of power, (d) problemization and professionalization, (e) prevalence of economic interests, (f) racism and privilege, and (g) imposition of the dominant culture. Based on his research, the author outlines how schools can create an alternative culture of peace and nonviolence grounded in the restorative justice based idea of peacemaking and focusing on: (a) building trust, (b) healing harms to relationships, (c) restoring dignity of persons affected, (d) respecting biculturalism/multiculturalism, (e) being aware of power differences, and (f) creating safety.
Friday, January 2, 2009
My latest book review will appear in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Comparative Social Welfare. That review is about a book titled Restorative Justice Across the East and the West, which is edited by Katherine Van Wormer. Professor Van Wormer is from the University of Northern Iowa and is an outstanding scholar in the field of restorative justice, particularly as related to social work. You can read that book review on my website at www.restorativejustice.com.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Secondly, I want to continue the work I started in New Zealand in the United States of America, learning together how we can build the capacity of young people to be peacemakers by creating a culture of care in schools. Rather then being treated as passive receptors of punishment and retribution, my research shows that we need to engage with our students in building our thinking and behavior around how we respond to wrongdoing and conflict, particularly in schools.