Transformative Justice

What is Transformative Justice?

Transformative justice is an approach where individuals, groups, and organizations can work through responses to conflicts, abuses, harms, and violence without using traditional systems, like the police or the court system. The thought around transformative justice is that when a harm or crime has been done, this has caused a violation between people and relationships that will not be necessarily repaired through the courts or police. Transformative justice gives a chance for the survivor, offender, and the community to “transform” through learning, growing, and potentially even healing through discussions.

Transformative justice has been used for a wide variety of situations, including sexual assault, murder, theft, and physical harassment. A survivor can chose to pursue transformative justice at any time, and can select this process instead of the court system, or after a court proceeding has occurred. While the police and court system often focuses on punishment, transformative justice looks at accountability and transformation. Some people may choose to only pursue transformative justice because of previous encounters with the police and court system due to an individual’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Others may have started with the court system, but did not find it healing for them, so have later pursued transformative justice.

Differences between Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice

To a greater extent both restorative justice and transformative justice are both expanding accountability and transformation through discussions with survivors, offenders, and community members. However, restorative justice looks at “restoring” the ways that existed before the trauma took place, which could include things like oppression towards certain races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, classes, and (dis)abilities. In this way, restorative justice does not challenge the dominant powers or systems. Transformative justice supports that major harms, violence, and traumas are due to larger root causes due to white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, ableism, and many other core society problems. Transformative justice seeks to change these larger social structures and helping all sides realize the unjustness in society.

What Does Transformative Justice Actually Look Like?

As disability activist Mia Mingus states “Transformative justice is a large framework, so one article cannot cover everything.” While every process of transformative justice looks a little different, Mia Mingus states that some things that it could involve include:

  • “Supporting survivors around their healing and working with the person who has harmed to take accountability for the harm they’ve caused;
  • Building community members’ capacities so that they can support the intervention, as well as heal and/or take accountability for any harm they were complicit in;
  • Building skills to prevent violence from occurring, and supporting community members’ skills to interrupt violence while it is happening.”

Much of the work of transformative justice is completed through facilitating discussions between the survivor, offender, community members, and a meditator. However, these conversations will only happen after a safety plan and individual meetings about healing, accountability, and resilience happen first. Facilitators will talk to all parties for a long time about what unfolded and the consequences of the event, as well as what the desired outcomes that are wanted from the process.

In mediation, survivors convey the aftermath of whatever happened to them, which can be quite emotionally and physically difficult. These processes can take months, or even years, sometimes they can take years, so it can really take a lot of commitment and capacity from all parties in order to complete a transformative justice process.

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