What Are…Punitive, Restorative, and Transformative Justice?

For quite some time, I’ve heard discussions about the differences between punitive and restorative justice. However, while starting to do research on a “what is” post comparing the two, I discovered yet another type of justice that is getting talked about more: transformative justice.

All that being said, what are punitive, restorative, and transformative justice?

In summary:

  • Punitive justice focuses on punishing the wrongdoer for the action that is wrong.
  • Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm of the crime instead of taking retribution.[1]
  • Transformative justice focuses on reforming or overhauling systems that played a part in the wrongdoing in the first place.[2]

The difference between these three approaches to justice is stark yet important, because the differing approaches mean differing attitudes towards how various crimes and criminals are treated.

To illustrate this, I will use a hypothetical example: a kid who was bullied in a schoolyard and responded back by punching the bully. The punitive justice approach to this would involve the person who punched getting punished for the punch, as well as the bully getting punished for the bullying. For the same sort of situation, the restorative justice approach might involve a meeting in the school office involving the kids (and possibly their parents) to discuss where the bullying stemmed from, how it resulted in the punch, and how both can be addressed. A transformative justice approach in this sort of situation would involve a schoolwide (or districtwide) review of school bullying policies so as to make sure there are stronger anti-bullying protections, anti-bullying education, and making it easier for someone who gets bullied to bring it to the attention of a teacher or school staff person.

Personally, I am a fan of getting to the root cause of a problem and addressing it—as such, my approach of preference, if I had to choose one, would be transformative justice, whenever possible. Unfortunately, the will to do the sort of transformative justice required to address certain crimes is often lacking, therefore resulting in large-scale transformative justice sometimes being out of reach.

Restorative justice fails to bring that systemic transformative change, yet has become popular due to its being a way of (in some cases with the criminal justice system in the United States) addressing the issue without contributing to mass incarceration. It is the type of justice that allows for low-level drug offenders to go into treatment for drug rehab instead of entering prison without that rehab. On a related note, it must be said that transformative justice, in some cases, can get to the root cause of certain issues an individual may have, even if it doesn’t get to root systemic issues.

Punitive justice, on the other hand, is the makeup of a lot of punishment in the American criminal justice system. And, at times, the criminal justice system is critiqued for being overly punitive, like in cases where criminals end up with long prison sentences for the aforementioned low-level drug offenses. Some believe that such bruising punishments can act as a deterrent to other people, yet at the same time, there are at least some types of crimes where it must be questioned whether a punitive approach is really the wisest one.

Hopefully, this post helps separate what punitive, restorative, and transformative justice all are. That being said, if you have questions or comments about any or all of these terms, feel free to comment below!


[1] https://emu.edu/now/restorative-justice/2011/03/10/restorative-or-transformative-justice/

[2] Ibid.

Regarding the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial

The George Floyd Mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Like with many people in the United States, and across the world, my heart was beating at a mile a minute as the judge in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial read the verdict on all three counts:

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

After I heard the verdict, I was personally relieved. I know many others who feel relieved with the verdict as well, for it meant that George Floyd’s life mattered enough that the police officer who killed him went to prison.

However, in my own humble opinion (humble because I do not have to worry about police on a daily basis like my friends of color do), what we saw today was not justice for George Floyd. Justice would’ve been if George Floyd didn’t get killed at the hands of Derek Chauvin.

Instead, what we got was accountability. Namely, accountability for a chokehold that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Derek Chauvin, the person who killed George Floyd, was held accountable for that chokehold.

That accountability often does not happen. Look at Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, and many others. All of these individuals were killed by police officers, and yet the police officers who killed them didn’t go to jail. In all these cases, we got neither justice nor accountability.

The ultimate goal should be justice, period. Justice means that Blacks are treated the same by law enforcement as others–something that is far from being the case. Justice means that Blacks aren’t so disproportionately subject to everything from marijuana use to being shot at in spite of being unarmed.[1] Justice means that my friends of color and my brother’s friends of color are given the same treatment by law enforcement that I receive.[2] But justice goes beyond policing–it means the elimination of racial inequality in everything from our schools to our economic systems. Reaching this goal of justice will not be easy, and it may take a long time to achieve this goal (especially as long as too many people keep electing politicians who do everything in their power to keep us from marching towards justice), but that should be our goal.

However, we can hope that the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial will at least be a first step towards accountability. Namely, accountability in terms of how Blacks are policed. With accountability, we can get a step closer to making sure that Black lives truly matter.

Please note that I wrote this piece on the fly, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.


[1] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/06/01/on-the-policing-of-people-of-color-and-the-death-of-george-floyd/

[2] Ibid.

The Fight for African American Civil Rights is Not Over

When my brother and I went through the educational system, we were taught that the big fight for African American civil rights was in the 1950s and 1960s…and then there was nothing on that fight after then.

That is somewhat understandable, because several of the most significant court decisions and pieces of legislation on African American civil rights in the history of the United States happened/passed in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, the fight for African American civil rights is far from over, and in fact, in a number of ways, the United States has seemingly gone backward on African American civil rights.

There is clearly a disconnect going on here, between what some people believe and what the reality is.

Below are three of the common[1] beliefs about African American civil rights that are incorrect. Those incorrect beliefs are in bold and the answers to those incorrect beliefs are in regular text:

  1. We have gone forward on voting rights in recent decades. Actually, the United States has gone backward on voting rights for African Americans. Several years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, many hundreds of voting sites have closed down, an overwhelming majority of them being in African American communities.[2] Additionally, Voter ID laws have come into play in numerous states; these ID laws have disproportionately affected people of color.[3] If you think that voting rights for African Americans are going forward, think again.
  2. School segregation is in the past. It’s over. To the contrary, racial integration in schools has also gone backward. This Atlantic article goes into great detail about school segregation in the United States. But the TL; DR (short for too long; didn’t read) version is that school segregation is actually getting worse, and there seems to be relatively little political will to sufficiently address that fact. And that’s not just a problem in the American South—there was a whole feature story, also in The Atlantic, about how the new chancellor of the New York City schools has made desegregation of schools a major priority because segregation has become a problem in New York. The consequence is schools that are separate…and unequal.
  3. White people and people of color are treated equally under the law. That’s not true either; the criminal justice system still shows racial disparities. A study in 2017 showed that black men get 19.1% longer sentences than white men on average…for the same crimes![4] Innocent African Americans are much more likely to be wrongfully convicted than innocent people of other races—50% more likely for murder, 3 ½ times more likely for sexual assault, and a staggering 12 times more likely for drug crimes.[5] The disparities may not come as a surprise for many, but the magnitude of the disparities may catch some off-guard—while also demonstrating that the United States has a long way to go on criminal justice issues.

Some people may yet argue that the fight for African American civil rights is over, and that anyone who believes otherwise is somehow holding on to misplaced bitterness. However, during this Black History Month, I argue that actually, it’s far from over. To the contrary, we’re going backward, whether people realize it or not.


[1] Note that this list is not comprehensive. In order to keep this post relatively short, I narrowed it down to three key areas where the fight for African American civil rights is clearly not over.

[2] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[3] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[4] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/black-men-sentenced-time-white-men-crime-study/story?id=51203491

[5] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

Addressing Silence on Black Lives

I am not the sort of person who likes to write blog posts, or anything, at the last minute. However, the recent death and burial of Richard Collins III, an African American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, moved me to write this blog post. I decided that it would be wrong for me or others to ignore this tragedy and be silent on it, even if it means writing a blog post which may be slightly disorganized this week.

It is especially wrong for me to ignore this tragedy because it exposes an injustice that needs to be addressed—the fact that, in even the best-case scenario, many of us are silent or say “thoughts and prayers” about these tragedies against African Americans.

This statement may come across to some as an overly emotional response to a recent tragedy that in some ways hits close to home for me; since I have friends who are in Army ROTC or have been commissioned in the last couple of years, they may’ve served with Collins III if he lived. However, if people look at the pattern of reactions after the killings of African Americans, maybe all of you will understand my thoughts.

With many shootings against African Americans, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many others, the reaction from numerous people (especially when law enforcement or neighborhood watchmen are involved, like in these three cases) tends to be one of pointing out the wrongdoings of the victims and celebrating “justice” when the people who took away these lives are declared “innocent.” I put innocent and justice in quotes because there is nothing innocent about killing someone, and because there is no justice in declaring the “innocence” of someone who took away a life that should still exist.

That being said, what is especially troubling is that, even when the lives of outstanding African Americans are taken away, there are a few prayers and condolences at best, and silence at worst. There were prayers and condolences after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but other than a short period of prayers and condolences, most attention was turned to other issues. The police officer killing of high school student Jordan Edwards in Texas last month got relatively little attention, even though Edwards was an excellent student and athlete. And the case of Richard Collins III, an outstanding student and recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army who was killed by an alt-right nationalist, was also met with relative silence.

Admittedly, I was one of the silent ones, as I didn’t make a post on social media about Edwards or Collins III. But silence on the killings of people like these does not end violence against innocent African Americans, or even violence against African Americans who did not commit offenses that were deserving of death. However, the killings of African Americans, and the relative lack of outrage over these killings, gives life to Black Lives Matter’s rallying cry of “white silence is violence,” whether we realize it or not.