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.