I just returned from a week long conference on restorative justice in Oaxaca Mexico – the First Conference on Restorative Justice: Humanizing the Penal System. The conference was instigated by a recent constitutional amendment in Mexico calling for the overhaul and reform of their criminal justice system. I was invited as a a presenter.
Restorative Justice seeks to change they way we see crime. Instead of seeing crime as harm done to the state it sees crime as harm done to people and relationships. Processes such as restorative conferencing bring together those effected by a crime or wrongdoing – victims, offenders, and those who care about them – to confront one another directly, discuss the personal impact of the harm and seek ways to repair it.
This is a big step for Mexico. The Oaxacan region is well-known for its 2006 uprising that started with a teachers strike and resulted in fierce government repression. If the Oaxacan people are able to develop their own methods to handle justice in a more direct way perhaps diverted from the more punitive aspects of the state – they will have taken another step forward toward gaining more control over their lives.
Soon I’ll post the paper I delivered at conference – "Power, Authority and Restorative Practices". The organization I work for, the International Institute for Restorative Practices, provides training, consulting and graduate education in Restorative Practices, which includes restorative Justice.
The major themes of the conference were how they could apply restorative justice to the areas of community/society (that was my gig), gender violence (domestic violence, human trafficking) and youth justice. The conference drew restorative justice experts from the US, New Zealand, Rwanda and Central and South America. Many hundreds of Mexicans attended and there was great enthusiasm as sessions stretched well into the night. The Oaxacan people showed great enthusiasm for developing alternatives to punitive and coercive state justice practices. There were many lawyers in attendance and the new Attorney General is becoming very well-known as a strident supporter of human rights.
It is a beautiful part of Mexico. The people are friendly, the mountains beautiful, the food delicious. But there many challenges such as a rampant drug trade, government corruption, and crushing poverty. But the people are an active people with a strong history of resistance.