Posts Tagged 'restorative justice'

Soulful Leadership in Public Safety, Part II: Defund the Police

Photo Credit: “File:Defund the police.jpg” by Taymaz Valley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Defund the police,” one of the rallying cries of protests a year ago after the police killing of George Floyd and other black men and women, has gained traction. Currently, over 20 U.S. cities have reduced their police budgets by some amount.

While last week’s conviction in Minneapolis of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has given some hope of justice, six police killings occurred within 24 hours after the verdict. Since Chauvin’s trial started on March 29, more than 64 people have died at the hands of police nationwide, including an unarmed Latino 13-year-old, Adam Toledo, in Chicago. Blacks and Latinos represent more than half of those killed.

Furthermore, Daunte Wright, an unarmed black man, had been killed by police in Minneapolis amid the trial.

Clearly, the police system is still badly broken.

What might “defund the police” look like? Who has shown wise, soulful leadership in this arena?

In many cases, moving funding from police forces to addressing needs in the community has been tried as a tactic to reduce crime. Money formerly used to fund the police has now been reinvested into ways that support the community, such as housing for the homeless, workforce development initiatives, and programs helping people to deal with substance abuse. In addition, some cities are handling crimes and emergencies in a new way –for instance, by calling on mental health professionals to respond to certain emergencies or by expanding the forensics labs necessary to properly investigate sexual assault cases.

In addition, restorative justice, an alternative to the dominant punitive justice system, has proven effective in reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.

While it is too soon to tell how effective some of the newer experiments will be, it is heartening that a number of cities are willing to try new approaches to public safety. It is clear that much work is still needed to re-envision the American justice system. From fighting for racial justice, eliminating police brutality, and ensuring police accountability to reducing the need for policing by improving methods of rehabilitation, we need to deeply reflect on and restructure our responses to public safety. The changes needed to re-create the structures that have been in place for so long are complex and daunting. They require new visions. They require strong leadership. Let us listen to the voices of those who call us to bold experimentation and together let us discern a way through the challenges we face to create a society where all members can feel safe.

Soulful Leadership in Public Safety, Part I: Prison Fellowship

By Margaret Benefiel and co-author, Michelle Abbott

“Defund the police,” one of the rallying cries of the recent protests after the police killing of George Floyd and other black men and women, has gained traction.  Last week, for example, the Minneapolis city council voted unanimously to defund the police, recommending that the police department be replaced with other forms of public safety.

Tired of two decades of police reform efforts that haven’t reduced the number of police killings of black people, activists call for a more radical approach.  It’s not just a few bad apples in the police force, they argue; it’s the underlying system that’s rotten.  But if police are defunded, others object, won’t society be cast into chaos?

A new approach to public safety relies on many components: restorative justice, domestic violence prevention, school counseling, drug treatment programs, and more.  Advocates argue that their vision for public safety would cost less and prove more effective.

While it’s too soon to tell how this vision might play out in all its manifestations and how effective it could be in various settings, restorative justice is one component that has proven effective over time. International in scope, the restorative justice movement in the U.S. has seen good results in settings as diverse as schools and prisons.

For example, Charles Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, based on his Christian faith and his personal experience, as an ex-offender, of God’s transformative power. The prison fellowship brings classes and other resources to inmates throughout the U.S. to help them change their lives through Christianity and reintegrate into society.  According to a study about federal inmates participating in the Prison Fellowship Ministries program, recidivism rates decreased dramatically for those who were trained for religious leadership in a two-week seminar.

The Prison Fellowship focuses not only on the inmates themselves but also on the well-being of their children and on the ability of prison wardens to create a safer environment more conducive to rehabilitation. Summer camps and sports programs provide the children of inmates an opportunity to thrive and learn new skills even while their loved ones are away.  The Warden Exchange program gives wardens the tools to make changes to better support the rehabilitation of inmates.

It is clear that a lot of work is needed to re-envision the American systems that have been put in place for our collective public safety. From fighting for racial justice, eliminating police brutality, and ensuring police accountability to reducing the need for policing by improving our methods of rehabilitation, we need to deeply reflect on and restructure our responses to public safety.  The changes needed to re-create the structures that have been in place for so long are complex and perhaps daunting. They require new visions. They require strong leadership.  However, there are many voices proposing new solutions and alternative paths to creating an America that can be safer for all its citizens. Let us listen to those voices and together let us discern a way through the challenges we face to create a society where all members can feel safe.