Transformative justice

Justice without cops and courts

As a part of this year’s “Culture Shock,” Life after Life – an action group of the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy at Concordia as well as a QPIRG McGill working group – hosted a workshop entitled “Transformative Justice 101.”

According to its website, Life after Life is an “intergenerational collective run mutually by girls, women, queer, transgender, and feminists” that is “committed to de-criminalization and to de-carceration and to troubling any common sense notion that prisons are normal, necessary, or that those who are living ‘inside’ prison walls are somehow different from those living ‘outside’.”

Held in the Lev Bukhman Room in the Shatner building, the workshop aimed to provoke thought about the concept of transformative justice as opposed to the more traditional idea of restorative justice, with a specific focus on violence against children, women, trans, and queer folk.

The workshop started with a brief introduction to Life after Life and proceeded into a forum for discussion. As participants discussed the situation of an anonymous gay man named Juan, the concept of transformative justice became clearer.

According to Life after Life project coordinator Lena Palacios – a survivor of restorative justice herself – people rely on cops and prisons. In the current system, when someone commits a crime and is sentenced to serve jail time, they have the chance to be “restored” back into the community. But in this way, Palacios explained, the person is forced to be held accountable for said crime.

Transformative justice, on the other hand, aims to change the community itself, and does not force individuals to be solely held accountable for a crime.

Transformative justice allows survivors to interact and perhaps “get even” with those who have hurt them – not in a vigilante justice sense, speakers clarified – without involving any institutions or the state. This gives the right of self-determination to the survivor.

Also, since transformative justice is achieved through community circles, it is much easier for survivors to find resources and support.

The workshop received positive feedback, and most participants agreed that the concept of transformative justice was “confusing, but in a good way.”

One McGill Law student found the concept to be “flexible” and “adaptive,” as opposed to the current judicial system in which not all communities are equally represented.

According to Palacios, Life after Life is one of many collectives that advocate transformative justice. She cited the Seattle-based Communities Against Rape and Abuse as one of the most effective examples.