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There’s more to justice than punishment

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Added: Thu, 09/22/2016 - 12:31pm
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On September 2, Brock Turner, convicted on three accounts of sexual assault for assaulting an unconscious woman at a party on Stanford’s campus, was released from prison after serving three months of his six month sentence handed down by Judge Aaron Persky.
Turner’s short sentence and early release sparked a controversy regarding the way the “criminal injustice system” appears to privilege wealthy, white males and downplay the seriousness of rape and sexual assault; many demanded
justice be served by requiring Turner to serve the maximum sentence (14 years) or at least the six years recommended by the prosecution.
But is justice the same as punishment? In her statement, Turner’s victim wrote: “What I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing”. A harsher sentence, regardless of the length, cannot guarantee accountability nor can it mend wounds.
“After reading the defendant’s report, I am severely disappointed and feel he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct…even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol,” she continued.
Society has been conditioned to believe prison is the ultimate solution
to wrongdoing and restoring order.
“Our natural instinct is to reach for the punishment we’re used to,” writes Angela Davis in ‘Are Prisons Obsolete?’ (2003). However, this retributive, “an eye for an eye” approach often misses the mark in addressing the needs of victims.
In the Turner trial, was prison really the answer? Who did it serve: society or the victim? Confining and surveilling doesn’t hold a person accountable. Would other methods be more appropriate?
Both transformative and restorative justice focus on repairing harms that have been done, holding offenders accountable, and building peace within communities through methods such as healing circles, victim-offender mediation, sentencing and peacemaking circles, and more.
Transformative justice also attempts to transform social systems that perpetuate violence such as systems of oppression, state violence, racism, rape culture, etc. In both cases, offenders are not branded with stigmas that cripple their normal functioning and reintegration into society.
The key in both methods is that the offender is held accountable for his or her actions, is made to recognize the harms and effects of their actions or behaviours, and is given restitution obligations. Most of all, both methods have proven to be effective (recidivism, perception of fairness, victim satisfaction, etc.) and open the door for forgiveness, which is often more healing and
liberating than knowing someone is being held behind bars.
Alternatives to prison exist and should be explored; however, to be effective, we must first value effectiveness over
satisfying our moral outrages. Could one of these methods have made a difference to Brock Turner and his victim?

Allyson Beauregard