RESTORATIVE JUSTICE SOLUTIONS FOR MASS INCARCERATION
Mass incarceration in the U.S. today is a reality with global dimensions. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. houses 25% of the world’s known incarcerated population. In 2002, the United Nations Economic and Social Council adopted a resolution calling on member nations to draw upon the guidance of restorative justice programs and processes developed by a core group of experts, for the development of criminal justice reform. Since then, an increasing number of states in the U.S. have passed legislation that incorporates restorative justice as part of their criminal justice statutes, with some states merely approving the use of restorative justice and others actively promoting the implementation of restorative justice processes within their departments of corrections. This article discusses the problem of mass incarceration and highlights the need for an alternative approach to dealing with crime and deviance. Restorative justice is emerging as an increasingly viable approach for criminal justice systems around the world, as illustrated by examples in China and New Zealand. This article will discuss the basic concepts of restorative justice and the various ways in which restorative justice has been implemented in states such as Vermont. California’s recent adoption of restorative justice as part of its penal code in 2017 has provided a much-needed impetus for implementing restorative justice in this State. Restorative justice programs could be used for the rehabilitation and reentry into the community of large numbers of inmates who were transferred from prisons and held in county facilities, due to the passage of California’s Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011. Increasing public awareness and promotion of the understanding of restorative justice principles and practices will help us move towards a more humane and sustainable approach for dealing with crime and public safety.
I. THE PROBLEM OF MASS INCARCERATION
The U.S. today is a very different country from what it was in 1972, in terms of its incarceration practices and population. In 1972, there were about 300,000 people in jails and prisons and the rate of incarceration was 161 prisoners to 100,000 U.S. residents.1After a relatively stable incarceration rate which hovered around 110 prisoners to 100,000 U.S. residents from 1925 to 1972, the incarceration rate grew rapidly after 1972. Between 1980 to 2000, it increased three-fold from 220 prisoners for each 100,000 U.S. residents to 690 prisoners for each 100,000 U.S. residents.2 The U.S. incarcerated population (i.e., individuals held in state prison or local jail) has experienced an explosive increase from 474,368 inmates in 1980 to 2,173,800 inmates in 2015. According to 2016 statistics published in the World Prison Brief by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), the U.S. still has the world’s largest prison population at 2,121,600 prisoners and highest rate of incarceration at 655 prisoners per 100,000 residents.3 The world’s most populous nation, China, has about 1,649,804 prisoners with a rate of incarceration of 118 prisoners per 100,000 residents while New Zealand has a rate of incarceration of 214 prisoners per 100,000 residents.4 A huge gap also exists between the incarceration rates in the U.S. and those of its neighboring countries, Canada and Mexico. Based on the 2016 World Prison Brief, Canada’s rate of