Restorative Justice: The Path to Abolishing the Current Criminal Justice System

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Harvard Political Review on March 14, 2022 by Kejsi Demaj

Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system. For decades, they have relied on their immense discretion to impose harsher sentences that have disproportionately targeted low-income communities of color and significantly increased the prison population. For far too long, prisons, jails, and correctional facilities have acted as the solutions to obtaining “justice.” This is despite the fact that incarceration has been found to be very costly and ineffective at reducing crime or “correcting” bad behavior. However, some prosecutors have begun to recognize their myopic focus on punitive justice over rehabilitation and correction, and as a result, have shifted to “progressive prosecution,” which focuses on ending mass incarceration while maintaining integrity in the legal system.

Though progressive prosecution has its merits, even its supporters feel that it has too many shortcomings. For example, Rachel Barkow, a leading expert on criminal law and policy, argues that ending mass incarceration requires limiting progressive prosecutors’ discretionary powers and increasing the involvement of other actors in the criminal justice system. Given flaws like these, it is crucial to introduce an alternative way for prosecutors to work within the criminal justice system as agents of change. Restorative justice is one such paradigm that can help a prosecutor emphasize healing, reconciliation, and the rehabilitation of victims, the community, and the offenders in the process of addressing criminal behavior. More importantly, restorative justice paves the path for the much-needed abolition of the current criminal justice system.