Academic Standards 1

In a previous post I pointed out that RJ4All and the IJRJ reviewed my paper from the 4th National Conference on Restorative justice and pathologized me, claiming they could diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based on my paper, and made the claim that the sources I cited ” are not in the research evidence scope either of Restorative Justice or Accountability.”

In the courtroom there is a principle called “opening the door.” Certain evidence that has been blocked by either the prosecution or defense can be introduced once a line of inquiry has introduced enough information about the subject that asking further questions and introducing evidence in the new area brought to light.

The area I would like to explore based on the IJRJ opening the door to the question, “what academic sources are within the research evidence scope of Restorative Justice?” is the question about academic standards.

In Lauren Walker and Katherine van Wormer’s book Restorative Justice Today: Practical Applications, chapter 17 written by Walker and van Wormer along with Andrew Johnson introduces a prison structure used in Brazil called APAC (Association for the Protection of the Condemned). The APAC prison is aggressively religious. Dr. Ottoboni, the founder of the prison model is quoted as saying, “Recuperandos (people recuperating from offending) need to profess a religion, believe in God, love and be loved. It does not really matter whether they profess one belief or another; moreover, we should never suffocate or asphyxiate recuperandos who feel they have to follow a certain vocation.”

Walker posits this as “freedom to choose religion.” What she doesn’t explore is the question of whether this necessity to participate in choosing is good. One of the questions I explored in my paper, which raised the question about whether my scope was within or outside that of Restorative Justice research had to do with the “double bind.” Religion relies on double binds – in Zen there is the koan: “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” The question has no true and direct question, but someone who chooses to wrestle with the question can gain insight and growth from engaging in the struggle to find a solution. When someone is pressed into subjugation under such questions, however, the choice that was freeing for one person becomes pure subjugation for another. Imagine telling a child they couldn’t have desert until they could answer that question. Under the wrong circumstances it can increase guilt, shame, a sense of inadequacy and all the things Restorative Justice claims to counter.

Freedom to choose from among a list is not freedom at all, especially when there is an expectation that “you must feel God’s presence.” Even a mild assertion that religion is right and that anything else leads to wrong is the application of a negative double bind. Walker et al. willfully turn a blind eye to this most important question.

One example of this willful blindness comes from their assessment and conclusions. The authors cite a research study published by Eric Jonson on Assessing
The study compared a prison that focused on vocational training with the APAC prison. Both prisons exhibited extremely low recidivism rates compared to the national average, estimated between 50% and 70%, and the APAC offenders measured were recorded at 16% while the vocational skills prison was recorded at 36%. There are a number of features that skew the data. First, offenders transferred to APAC prisons are pre-screened by the court to assess the suitability of the offender’s request to be transferred there. This proactive and evaluative component may simply preselect offenders more likely to take action in their own reform. Second, the study reviewed 148 offenders released from APAC prisons and 247 from the vocational skills prison. Selection sample skews data as the inclusion or exclusion of one re-offense can significantly impact overall percentages. The study cited that “the sample was too small to measure severity of crime comparisons of the groups.”

Most importantly, the study was labeled as exploratory, meaning that we cannot make any assumptions about whether or not this model would or would not result in better outcomes if applied to the general offending population, i.e. people unwilling to submit to the double bind of religion and to offenders that do not appeal for entry into the program.

“‘considerable caution’ was suggested in interpreting the results.”

What was the conclusion Walker et al. took away from their assessment? “APAC is a successful restorative prison model. Treating incarcerated people with respect and kindness can rehabilitate and prevent crime.”

This wild and willful academic irresponsibility by the authors must not go uncontested. As the primary spokesperson for reason in reform, I ask you to my GoFundMe. If you can, donate to my fund to help me attend and present new research at the 5th National Conference on Restorative Justice where my latest presentation has been accepted. If you cannot donate, please consider sharing my campaign and asking others to donate.


Academic Standards 1

5th National Conference on Restorative Justice

This week I was accepted to present at the 5th National Conference on Restorative Justice to be held in June this year. My presentation will focus on two cases published by Helen Bowen and Jim Consedine in 1999. The cases used a Restorative Justice process in a pre-sentencing phase of the case to recommend reduced sentencing to the judge.

In my reading of the cases there are significant risks that subjugate victims, in one case, and rely on unreasonable racial bias against the offender in the second.

I believe it is imperative that we have an open and honest discourse about these issues, which is why I am going to this conference.

You can help me bring these important issues to bear. As a victim of sex abuse at the hands of an offender freed through the intervention of Restorative and Community Justice I bring important insights to the justice process that no one else in the Restorative Justice movement seems to see or understand.

I am seeking financial support to offset costs of attending and presenting at the conference. So far I have raised $220 dollars to offset the following costs:

NACRJ membership (leads to reduced pricing for the conference and provides access to databases for further research): $75
Conference fee: $225 – $275
Round Trip airfare: $800
Hotel for four nights: $750
Ancillary costs: $125

Most of the presenters at the conference come from research universities or practice-based careers such as social work or law where continuing development credits are required and funded. As a victim’s advocate, I do not have financial backing to present at these events.

In 2013 I self-funded my trip to Toledo, Ohio to speak out about the dangers of and harms caused by mishandled “restoration.” Help me continue my work, exploring complicated and challenging cases handled by Restorative Justice, and promoting recommendations for regulations and practices to mitigate these risks.


5th National Conference on Restorative Justice

Peer Review

After presenting at the 4th National Conference on Restorative Justice I stayed in touch with Theo Gavrielides, co founder of RJ4All, a European research group on Restorative Justice. He encouraged me to send him my paper for review by the International Journal of Restorative Justice, and I did.

In many ways, I expected my paper to be rejected. When I wrote it I carefully matched the level of bias presented in publications such as Howard Zehr’s book “Changing Lenses” and Restorative Justice Today: Practical Applications co edited by Catherine S. van Wormer and Lorenn Walker. I also provided a greater number of citations in my paper than either of these books. I wanted to test the Restorative world to see if it would accept alternate narratives, to see through the victim of Restoration’s eyes, or if it would close its doors, circle the wagons, and exclude. It did the latter, but through a mechanism I never suspected.

I received a email from Vassiliki Artinopoulou with the following documentation attached.

“The paper is a case study, using the narrative as the qualitative research methodology. However, there are few critical points due to the publication guidelines of the IJRJ:

” a. Originality. The paper is not truly original, as the same story and the issues addressed have been published already and a media story coverage exists in the internet. Indicatively cited below

I was aware my paper followed on and drew from my blog post. I had submitted the link myself along with the paper. However, I felt that the blog post did not include research into how perceptions of crime, culture, authority and sentencing are used by individuals, groups and society at large to construct meaning. I believed and still do, that the paper and its associated slides put the experiences in the given situation into larger context that directly addresses issues with Restorative Justice.

“b. Documentation. The paper is mostly a case study, in a descriptive, narrative and individual experience character. It is not a research paper with certain structure, background documentation and references. Even if few references cited, they are not in the research evidence scope either of Restorative Justice or Accountability.”

Citing Theo Gavrieledes, cofounder of IARS is not on the evidence scope of Restorative Justice or accountability. Citing van Wormer and Lorenn Walker’s textbook on how to use RJ to resolve crime is not in the scope of Restorative Justice or Accountability. Discussing a religious publication that promotes restoration and trains people on an ideological approach to engagement with the court system and prisoner reentry is certainly within the scope of RJ. Discussing Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon certainly relates, as his critique of cultural power and the interventions it has on free will as a predecessor to the Restorative Justice conception of the “prison pipeline” most certainly relates to the theory and implementation of RJ. This is a sideways approach to rejecting a paper. Yes, I agree with the IJRJ that many of the publications are wildly lacking in academic standards, but I don’t see how citing and providing a critical reading of RJ publications is off base.

In fact, the keynote speaker for the conference where Gavrieledes and I met was Angela Davis, one of the leading cultural critics in the United States, known for reading into normative culture and analyzing the threads of oppression that directly descend from slavery to today. If Restorative Justice is going to accept and “forgive” liberal and sweeping interpretations by others, why won’t it indulge and engage criticism of it’s own movement? I suggest because Restorative Justice subjugates and silences as much or more than the culture it intends to replace.

“c. Objectivity/Detachment of the research subject. The paper’s main problem is that strong subjective views and individual bias () are found in many points (due to trauma of victimization and/or post traumatic syndrome). So, there are plenty of ‘arbitrary’ judgments as for persons, as for organisations. In case of accepting the paper for publication, a lot of references and documentation needed in the fields of ‘ideology of professionals’, ‘organization structures’ , ‘religious organisations internal structures and functions’ and ‘power structures and hierarchy’.”

In the United States only a licensed psychiatric professional can diagnose post traumatic stress disorder. I wrote back as such. Yes, the positions are subjective, but it is dismissive to suggest that the subjectivity is due to a psychiatric disorder when I am not a patient of Vassiliki Artinopoulou, nor is she certified to practice or diagnose. The paper I presented had to be cut multiple times to be delivered within the timeframe I had available to me to speak, and the level of documentation the evaluators requested would reach book level. There are opportunities in publishing to list “areas for further research” in a paper length offering. This often opens the door for the author to do further work, be accepted by future conferences and to publish papers that dig into the areas in question. This was not presented as an option.

“d. Structure. The paper needs a certain and appropriate structure (headlines, numbering etc), as in many points there is lack of internal logic and coherence. Finally, the reviewers suggest to the editors of the IJRJ and the Directors of the website to publish the paper in the RJ4ALL section of ‘RJ case studies’, if the author agrees.”

This was the punt. The paper was kicked over to RJ4ALL to deal with. “It’s the result of mental illness and it’s completely arbitrary and incoherent, but we recommend our colleagues publish it as a case study.” RJ4ALL had previously punted the paper over to IJRJ to deal with because it was a “paper.”

I responded on August 17, 2013:

Dr. Artinopoulou,

Thank you very much for the committee’s thoughtful review of my paper. I do agree that it does not meet the peer review academic standard as it focuses on my own case study and that there are assumptions built in for organizations and so forth.

The only point I might contest is the use of the term “post traumatic stress.” I have been to two therapists in the past year to discuss this matter. The first indicated there could be no diagnosis because my levels of stress in talking through the offense result in no uptick in stress, and that my general stress levels in my daily life are normal or below that of many average individuals. That assessment was just after publishing the lengthy article on my website.

Since presenting at the 4th National Conference in the United States I have seen another therapist about stress that has come up while engaging in conversations with restorative practitioners in LinkedIn forums. Again, the therapist indicated that he wouldn’t generally provide a diagnosis in my case, but because the counseling service was provided through my job they may require some form of diagnosis. He indicated some minor form of anxiety that would not rise to the level of Post Traumatic Stress and can be managed through basic stress management techniques. In some ways, the lack of diagnosis is frustrating because it diminishes concrete evidence of the harm done in the circumstance. If through my paper IARS is providing a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress please advise me of that.I may be able to use such a diagnosis to elicit payment for harms done from the state or the non profit that freed my offender and such a diagnosis may have negative ripple effects to my employment, ability to be accepted for further education or other effects in the United States.

I am excited that the recommendation is to publish this in the case studies section of the RJ4All website. What are the next steps in that process? I look forward to hearing from you or the appropriate editor about that opportunity.


Alan Murdock

Ultimately my work was never printed by their organization and I opted to self-publish the paper through as it was presented at the 4th National Conference on Restorative Justice. It was also only after much further engagement with and dismissive treatment by Restorative Justice practitioners that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the harmful result of being a victim of their cultural position as a child and triggered by their ongoing denial and failure to recognize and resolve harm.

Peer Review

Thesis Statements

Restorative Justice triggers the hell out of me. I have to engage with it only a little at a time. If I don’t, my mind begins racing, and eventually I shut down. In fact, last year I spent four days in an infectious disease wing of a hospital waiting for Meningitis tests to come back. I had completely shut down while trying to deliver a lecture to students and was only able to sit at the lecture podium clicking from one PowerPoint slide to the next and in the ER, after a colleague found me sitting at my desk unable to communicate, hours after the class had ended, I could answer simple questions correctly after about 20 seconds waiting for the question to hit my brain and come back out again. In the final assessment, which took months after getting out of the hospital to sort through, it was a combination of work stress plus the stress of having engaged very unsuccessfully with Restorative Justice practitioners and family members over the prior year regarding an offense I experienced as a young child, which I have written about here and here.

Very few people understand how that could happen.

“Look at the principles,” they say.

“Recognizing wrongs, restoring the balance,” they say. “How could that be bad?”

I think of the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and friends are standing before the great Oz commanding them to look at him, not the kerfuffle behind the curtain. Dorothy quickly realizes that the grand statements of the great Oz don’t add up to reality, and she moves forward to pull back the curtain and reveal the truth, which is mundane and not grand at all.

I feel the same way about Restorative Justice. It asks us to take criminal cases and to put them behind a curtain of secrecy. Around the globe cases diverted into restorative dialogues, in many jurisdictions, are sealed, unlike the transcripts of most cases that are presented to the court. Restorative Justice instead asks us to trust a series of vision and mission statements – to believe in “pillars” of restoration, not in precedent and a slow moving process of change and reform under a system of checks and balances.

Upon entering the Emerald City Dorothy and her friends are encouraged to “change lenses” by putting on green tinted glasses to make the world look different than it really is. Howard Zehr, one of the early theorists of Restorative Justice asks us to do the same in his book, Changing Lenses. He asks us to change our world by changing our view.

This changing of perspective, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. I teach in a college setting, and we consistently challenge students to look at challenges from competing perspectives and to make decisions within a diverse and dynamic framework. A risk posed by Restorative Justice, however, is, I will argue, that the change of lenses is framed ideologically and that evidence exists to demonstrate that the alternate ideological frame creates harms as powerful as those it intends to resolve in the current criminal justice system. Note that I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the current system. It most certainly has flaws and causes harm. I’m simply saying it is a false dichotomy to vilify CJ and to praise RJ as “good.”

Here are a list of thesis statements that I will attempt to support through presenting my assessment.

The name “Restorative Justice” creates a presumption of “good” and results in an Orwellian circular logic – “if something bad happened, its not restorative, therefore it’s not Restorative Justice, therefore it casts no doubt on our project, therefore we can dismiss and minimize it.” I will provide numerous examples.

Restorative Justice in the United States opposes checks and balances and creates a “tyranny of communal thinking” risk. What “harm” means and who defines it, I believe, are more politically charged within the Restorative and Community Justice framework than within the culture of courts and contest driven justice models. Again, examples.

The academic literature and education of students in Restorative Justice largely fails to reach the academic rigor that should be expected at a university. I will demonstrate by analyzing the RJ course I took through Portland State University as well as through a deconstruction of a common recently published textbook. I’m not even going to go into Braithewaite and his tree slaughtering history of publications all which site his other publications and nearly nothing else. I don’t want to break down and cry on the internet in front of all of you.

Restorative Justice extracts enough from religion to violate the separation of church and state clause applied in all reasonable cultures. I decided last year that I needed to begin worshiping Satan to protect myself from the ideological hoopla, and though I am very lax in my faith – more of a Saturday Satanist, just showing up for the wine and cheese – I worry that the implementation of RJ generates a discriminatory environment and subjugates me under an ideology of forgiveness and agape love that doesn’t allow me to live my authentic self, free from religion.

You can hear my music produced under the band name “Satan’s Bestie” at ReverbNation. Playing guitar and bass has been a key component of my stress management plan as it is such an all engaging activity that it can stop my brain from spiraling into panic. The Satan’s Bestie name is mostly to annoy my Catholic mother, but she seems to take it in stride. And the music, I know, is not that good. It’s just fun and stress reducing, so I put it out there because I like to share. The song “Why Can’t the Devil Have a Best Friend?” was written about what I see as the ironies of Restorative Justice – its multi-religious basis and its scapegoating of Criminal Justice as evil at the same time it claims offenders have been scapegoated and othered. (Yes, I’ll give you some citations, just hold your horses!)

Restorative Justice practice is so invasive into the minds of participants that it violates key principles of choice and free will.

Restorative Justice relies on the use of double binds in an attempt to control both victims and offenders.

Double binds pose psychological risks to those placed under them which ultimately result in harm to the individuals and potentially to others.

Restorative Justice practitioners and writers have documented harms perpetrated under the banner of Restorative Justice while simultaneously praising themselves for their good works. Again, examples.

I think this is a good working list, and I look forward to writing about it. Again, I’m planning to take it slow, because I need to guard against the buildup of stress and anxiety around this topic. Please come back every few weeks for updated content.

Thesis Statements

Restorative Discourse: A Beginning

For quite some time I’ve been considering creating a new blog to focus just on restorative justice and to highlight the problems that I see with the movement.

During the past year many people have read my story, either through a very lengthy post on another blog that I will repost here, or by reading the paper Restorative Accountability and viewing the associated presentation slides that I presented at the 4th National Conference on Restorative justice which is available for download at my site.

Telling my story publically came after years of attempts to engage with the founders and managers of the Restorative and Community Justice organization in Ames, Iowa that freed an offender, placed him in my home while I was a young child, and when the offender sexually molested me, failed to properly report the offense to the court. My goal has been to reform the movement in order to mitigate many of the risks rooted in ideological thinking and fixed mindsets my the movement’s founders and promoters.

Over the past year I have engaged with a broad spectrum of Restorative Justice advocates. Some have been supportive, and others have aggressively pressed me to become silent. On this blog I will explore that journey and point out how the movement’s weaknesses create a worse situation for victims and offenders. I believe that contemporary forms of Restorative and Community Justice need to be rigorously supervised by courts and that far greater checks and balances need to be put into place in order to protect people from the harms inherent in collective thinking.

At the same time, I will also point out how prison and criminal justice processes need to be reformed. But reforming sentencing, lawmaking, policing and other parts of the criminal justice system and adopting an ideological approach that claims that policing, courts and prisons are evil is not the same thing. The former, reforming the process, maintains the key principle of checks and balances, where the latter shifts the process from one of a government of laws to a government of faith and ideology. The latter is not good for anyone.

I will try to post at least a couple of times per week as I have time to read and write about Restorative Justice topics. I invite you to join me on the journey.

Restorative Discourse: A Beginning