Article by: Sherry Swiney - November 10, 2002
(permission to print, copy, distribute or publish is granted herewith)
 A few years back, there was a new buzzword within the prison reform community.  As many people read about what Restorative Justice (RJ) meant and saw the potential of RJ, as a means within the idea of Prison Reform, RJ began to get popular especially in Law Universities across the country.  In addition to ideas about restitution vs. retribution, and rehabilitation vs. punishment, RJ also promotes reconciliation of victims and their families, offenders and their families, and the community. It's quite difficult to implement RJ measures in a prison system that only mistreats the offenders as though they are no longer human beings. 

I think the American People are potentially better than that.

Somehow the movement several years ago toward promoting Resorative Justice, faded away into the night and few discussed these things any more except among themselves.

A rather small group of Alabama citizens are going to be working together with one or more prisoners to *sell* Restorative Justice to their Members of Congress, and thus to their constituents - the American People.  What a novel idea, and one that I think will work over time.  We hope the group of Alabama citizens grow.  We hope activists in other states will implement a similar program.

Bureaucracy moves *slowly* and it doesn't cotton to Activist Groups demanding citizens' rights for prisoners.  We know prison is big business.  Government knows this too, but the the American People don't.  Ergo, they cannot understand what we are saying.  Somehow public perception got turned around.  These American People see things differently than we do  They think that someone who supports decent treatment for prisoners, or anyone who affiliates herself/himself with a prisoner, is a criminal or just plain weird...someone to stay from.  Somehow these American People have no compassion left in their hearts. Their lack of compassion is fear-based by design.  They do not know what we know about the prison system in this country. 

Restorative Justice is for everyone in every community in this country and around the world.  I think introducing RJ in a steady stream of correspondence with Members of Congress [cc: news media and governor], will evoke a time when RJ is in the minds and on the lips of congressmen and congresswomen. 

At first we will be ignored.  Next, we may see a strong campaign to discredit any person who supports prison reform.  With perseverance because we know this will work, we will be heard. As we work to educate members of our government about RJ as it relates to prison reform, RJ will be implemented in first a few prisons and communities, and when people see that it is
successful in keeping people out of prison, and rehabilitating people who were in prison, so that the prison population drops severely, then the idea of implementing Prison Reform in every prison and community will come to bear.

I believe the day will come when the pendulum swings toward center and Restorative Justice and Prison Reform will be a reality.  I think it's just a matter of: Do we want to do this the easy way now - via this or something like this seemingly *slow motion* letter campaign to Congress, or do we put it off and wait until the effort is near impossible because there are too few of us - this government is not above arresting a few activists because of their beliefs. 

It isn't really *because* of their beliefs though.  In reality, it is because prison reform activists are a threat to the BIG business of prisons.  As long as only a few people know about this, they don't perceive us as a real threat.  If there are several prisoners in several different states, writing to their Members of Congress every month, about RJ - followed-on with a response letter by their cooperative on the outside, eventually our esteemed officials will begin speaking about it to their colleagues.  This is an economical issue really.  It's not a human rights issue to anyone but us.  Let us approach our officials in this manner.  If we can show them that it is actually more economically feasible to keep people out of prison, than it is to drain the economy by keeping millions of people behind bars - then they will do it. 

Start writing your essays now - put them on your websites.  Let surfers stumble upon the idea of Prison Reform that is in line with the Restorative Justice measures for preventing further crime.

Communicate with a prisoner now, send them your essay on Restorative Justice, or find one on the WorldWideWeb.  Ask them to write a letter to their Members of Congress about RJ and send it to you for typing and mailing so that it looks professional [cc: news media and governor].  When the prisoner receives his/her response from a Member of Congress, he/she sends it to their cooperative on the outside for response.  When the cooperative receives a response from congress, he/she sends that to the prisoner for response and return for typing/editing.  The idea is to do this every month - soon there will be more than duplicate form letters coming your way, and an actual dialog may begin. 

I think it would be wise to use the D.C. address for our Members of Congress, and on the outside of the envelope write "Re: Restorative Justice".  Month after month.  That way the mail clerks will eventually see the term, and maybe one of them will talk about it to other colleagues.  The same thing on the envelopes that go to the news media and governor.

There's a rumor going around that Prison Reform is something everybody should support.  If they want lower taxes, better education in our schools, and less crime in the streets, then they have to know how this can be accomplished by reforming our prisons.  Restorative Justice is easy to understand.  It's not complicated like Law is.  If given a sincere chance for introduction into our prison system, we will indeed have prison reform and fairness in our courts.  Over time, there will be no need for spending tax dollars to build more prisons.  If we can make Restorative Justice and Prison Reform *politically* correct, then we will succeed.  Right now it is politically incorrect, but that's because too few know how broken the judicial system really is.