Transformative Justice 101

A drawing of two telephones whose cords are wound together to spell Community Accountability

from the revolution starts at home: confronting intimate violence within activist communities. chen, ching-in, jai dulani, and leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha, eds. 2011. brooklyn, ny: south end press.

Think about a conflict you have had or witnessed others having, in which there came a moment that police involvement was considered. Think about what factors went into that decision: did 911 seem like an attractive or safe option for anyone experiencing the conflict? Transformative Justice (TJ) has been slowly gaining recognition in activist communities because we recognize that the criminal injustice system has so often failed us—made us more vulnerable, given already-marginalized folks police records or time in prison, and compounded the violence we were already trying to deal with before the system got involved.

TJ is a way of practicing alternative justice which acknowledges individual experiences and identities and works to actively resist the state’s criminal injustice system. Because TJ tries to address harm without looking to cops or courts, it is both extremely flexible as well as deeply scary—how do we unite as a community in holding accountable those who have done harm? How do we hold space for the people experiencing harm to feel safe, while also allowing those who have harmed to remain living in their community, keep their job and status, stay close to their families?

Generation FIVE (an organization dedicated to ending child sexual abuse within five generations) does a great job of laying out the main goals, principles, and questions of TJ. These are their words:

The goals of Transformative Justice are as follows:

+Safety, healing, and agency for survivors;
+Accountability and transformation for people who harm;
+Community action, healing, and accountability;
+Transformation of the social conditions that perpetuate violence—systems of oppression and exploitation, domination, and state violence.

But what does TJ mean in practice? The truth is, we don’t know yet, although we see a rich history emerging out of amazing and brave community attempts at TJ. Some local examples include QPIRG’s Conflict Resolution and Complaints Committee (CRCC), as well as community accountability processes designed to hold accountable people who have done harm to the people whom they have harmed. A beautiful and inspiring book came out in 2011 (see below) that details some of these community accountability processes and discusses what worked, what didn’t, and how this shit is hard and heartbreaking but still so worth it.

A drawing of an orange juice carton with birds flying out of it.