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Peacemaking Criminology:  Challenges and Possibilities

Roger C. Barnes
University of the Incarnate Word

     “Peacemaking criminology” emerged about 15 years ago, signaled by the publication of Harold Pepinsky and Richard Quinney’s edited reader titled Criminology as Peacemaking (1991). Drawing on three peacemaking traditions (religious and humanistic, feminist, and critical traditions), the general argument presented by the Pepinsky and Quinney writers is that the whole of the American criminal justice system is predicated on the continuance of violence and oppression (as seen in the prison system), war (as seen in the “war on crime” and the “war on drugs”), and the failure to account for how the larger social system contributes to the problem of crime (as seen in the failure to reduce poverty in society).
     Quinney (1991:3), a longtime critic of mainstream criminology, observes:

Let us begin with a fundamental realization: No amount of thinking and no amount of public policy have brought us any closer to understanding and solving the problem of crime. The more we have reacted to crime, the farther we have removed ourselves from any understanding and any reduction of the problem. In recent years, we have floundered desperately in reformulating the law, punishing the offender, and quantifying our knowledge. Yet this country remains one of the most crime-ridden nations. In spite of all its wealth, economic development, and scientific advances, this country has one of the worst crime records in the world.

     In the main, peacemaking criminology contends that crime is connected to suffering and that to end crime, we must end suffering. This means that poverty, racism, sexism, alienation, abuse within families, harassment, and all other forms of suffering must be dealt with if crime is to be reduced. Additionally, peacemaking criminology holds that the state itself perpetuates crime (and violence) through repressive policies of social control such as the death penalty, lengthy prison sentences for offenders, and the criminalization of non-violent drug offenses. Peacemaking criminology further asserts that the focus on individual offenders has been at the neglect of certain institutional arrangements in society that contribute to our high crime rate, and that criminology should concern itself with promoting a greater amount of social equity across social class lines. Lastly, peacemaking criminology argues that the most significant change to be made by the criminal justice system is to move away from criminal justice to restorative justice.
     Peacemaking criminology is certainly not mainstream criminology. It is not positivist in its orientation and is not obsessed with detailed statistical analysis of the cause of criminal behavior. This is not to say that peacemaking criminology is not interested in the causes of crime; rather, it approaches the etiology issue in nontraditional means. For example, in giving a summary of the basis of peacemaking criminology, Quinney (1991:3-4) tries to capture how the etiology issue can be framed:

     (1) Thought of the Western rational mode is conditional, limiting knowledge to what is already known. (2) The truth of reality is emptiness: all that is real is beyond human conception. (3) Each life is a spiritual journey into the unknown and the unknowable, beyond the egocentric self. (4) Human existence is characterized by suffering; crime is suffering; and the sources of suffering are within each of us. (5) Through love and compassion, beyond the egocentric self, we can end suffering and live in peace, personally and collectively. (6) The ending of suffering can be attained in a quieting of the mind and an opening of the heart, in being aware. (7) Crime can be ended only with the ending of suffering, only when there is peace – through the love and compassion found in awareness. (8) Understanding, service, justice: all these flow naturally from love and compassion, from mindful attention to the reality of all that is, here and now. (9) A criminology of peacemaking, the nonviolent criminology of compassion and service, seeks to end suffering and thereby eliminate crime.

     One of the greatest challenges for this new form of criminology is the development of a coherent, unifying theory. Generally, one thinks of theory in criminology as efforts to explain the cause of crime. Edwin Sutherland’s (1947) theory of differential association and Travis Hirschi’s (1969) control theory of delinquency (i.e., social bond theory) are examples of this kind of theorizing. However, the kind of theorizing that has accompanied peacemaking criminology is more general in tone and has a broader, less systematic nature. It tends to not state hypotheses, nor to formulate testable propositions. Rather, theory in peacemaking criminology usually generates value assertions about the criminal justice system (which, in fairness, can be reformulated into hypotheses and propositions). In the following section, I quote at length from the best known of the peacemaking theories.
John Fuller’s Peacemaking Pyramid Paradigm.
     John Fuller has developed a six-stage model of peacemaking criminology that deals with the criminal justice system. The following six-part statement is taken directly from Fuller (2003:86-88):

  1. Nonviolence. Peacemaking criminology is first and foremost concerned with the issue of violence. The best example of how peacemaking criminology looks at violence is to consider capital punishment. Peacemaking criminology argues against the death penalty as a criminal justice policy. The premeditated violence of the state is viewed as just as wrong as the violence of the offender.
  2. Social justice. Any solution to a criminal justice case needs to include the concept of social justice. Social justice considers a broader concept of justice than the criminal justice. Issues of sexism, racism and inequality are also part of the concern of social justice. For instance, in considering capital punishment cases, a pattern of racial bias has long been apparent. The race of the offender and the race of the victim have been shown to influence the death sentence. Minorities have been more likely to receive death penalties than whites. While there are other reasons to argue against the death penalty, this obvious racial proclivity is a violation of the notion of social justice. The minority offender may be guilty of a heinous crime, but the peacemaking perspective argues against the death penalty on social justice grounds when there are such extralegal factors affecting the sentence.
  3. Inclusion. The idea behind inclusion is simple. It suggests that the criminal justice system needs to be more inclusive of the stakeholders in the community. In our highly formalized concept of criminal justice, the offender is pitted against the state. There are others who have an interest in the case and who can offer legitimate perspectives and alternatives. Families of the victim and the offender as well as individuals from the neighborhood or from community resources are all interested parties who have valuable insights. When the state takes such total control of a case it deprives the affected parties of the opportunity to develop their own creative solution. The Norwegian criminologist, Nils Christie (1977), likens this to the state taking away the property of the offender and victim. The concept of inclusion also entails giving the offender an opportunity to negotiate the outcome. Rather than having a sentence imposed on the offender, the offender agrees to the conditions and takes ownership for the offense and his/her treatment. The peacemaking perspective argues that such conditions of inclusion will form more satisfactory and lasting solutions than conventional sentencing.
  4. Correct means. There is an old saying that the ends don’t justify the means. This is especially true in the criminal justice system. A whole area of procedural law has been developed to ensure that criminal justice practitioners do not violate the legal and civil rights of the offender. Peacemaking criminology suggests that correct means entails ensuring that offenders and victims are not coerced into settlements of their cases. The due process guarantees of the law need to be preserved even while we search for more creative and effective solutions to cases. Additionally, policies and procedures employed by the criminal justice system must not sacrifice correct means for effectiveness. An example of this point is the extensive racial profiling used by many law enforcement agencies. While targeting minorities may seem justified to the police based on their expectations and experience, such incorrect means are inherently unfair and quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When minorities are disproportionately targeted, they become disproportionately arrested and this is used as evidence in developing suspect profiles. It becomes a vicious circle where incorrect means contribute to the violations of social justice.
  5. Ascertainable criteria. In order for victims, offenders, and community members to fully participate in the criminal justice system, they must understand what is going on. There are two types of language barriers that inhibit equal access to the law. The first is the inability of many recent immigrants to understand English. While many jurisdictions provide adequate translators, many do not. Some would argue that courts and police should become proficient in the language of the community, and, while the peacemaking perspective is sympathetic to this suggestion, it raises wider issues than we can consider at this time. It is sufficient to say here that when individuals cannot understand English, they cannot fully participate in the court proceedings. The second issue concerning ascertainable criteria has to do with the specialized parlance used in the criminal justice system. The language of the law is a highly specialized professional argot that is completely understood only by lawyers. The peacemaking perspective’s concepts of ascertainable criteria and inclusion argue that efforts to insure that all parties fully understand the procedures are desirable. This would include education efforts aimed at non-English speaking individuals as well as clearly-written legal guidelines aimed at educating victims and offenders.
  6. Categorical imperative. When considering the problems of crime and the criminal justice system, the peacemaking perspective aims at developing a consistent and predictable viewpoint. Using Kant’s concept of the categorical imperative, the peacemaking perspective argues that responses to crime should reflect an underlying philosophy of nonviolence and social justice that are extended throughout the criminal justice system. Victims and offenders, criminal justice practitioners, as well as the public, should all be treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve. To that end, criminal justice decisions should employ Kant’s axiom: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Thus, the peacemaking perspective is not a haphazard and inconsistent policy guide. It aims at providing true equality under the law that is tempered by appositive view of humankind.

     What might one say about the above “theoretical” perspective? First, it is not a classically framed theory, replete with hypotheses, propositions, and the like. Second, it does not directly address the issue of crime causation. Third, it is less peacemaking criminology and more peacemaking criminal justice. (All three points are not necessarily criticisms). Frankly, there is much of value in Fuller’s observations.  For one thing, he gives us an alternative view (e.g., social justice) to the dominant criminal justice perspective. For another, he has couched his six points in a humanist and compassionate plea for human dignity. And, for another, he has reminded us that perhaps criminologists should be as interested in victims as in offenders. Lastly, without directly stating it, Fuller has clearly implied that today’s criminologists should be actively engaged in the various struggles for social justice.
Criticism of Peacemaking Criminology.
     There is, of course, criticism raised over peacemaking criminology. It has been viewed as “utopian,” “soft on crime,” “unrealistic,” and “just not feasible.” One of the staunchest critics is Ronald Akers, who noted in his 1997 book, Criminological Theories: Introduction and Evaluation, that:

Peacemaking criminology does not offer a theory of crime or of the criminal justice system that can be evaluated empirically….It may be possible to construct a testable, parsimonious, and valid theory from peacemaking criminology, but at this point it remains a philosophy rather than a theory. It is a utopian vision of society that calls for reforming and restructuring to get away from war, crime, and violence….This is a highly laudable philosophy of criminal justice, but it does not offer an explanation of why the system operates as it does or why offenders commit crime. It can be evaluated on other grounds but not on empirical validity (Akers, 1997:183).

     In a subsequent edition of Akers’ text, Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application (2000), additional shortcomings are cited. Fuller (2003:93) summarizes Akers’ objections as follows:

  • It is contradictory to claim Marxist/critical theory as one of the main foundations for peacemaking because Marxist theory is based on class conflict and Marx’s own endorsement of violent revolution.
  • Feminism also is not consistent with peacemaking. The nurturing role of women is, according to feminism, simply part of the patriarchal system of oppression of women.
  • Almost all of the policies of peacemaking have long been mainstays of the policy recommendations of traditional criminology, so peacemaking is not really anything new or different.
  • Peacemaking does not provide a plan for getting past criminal justice policies to suggest how large-scale structural changes can be made to make society less violent.

Fuller (2003:93-94) counters Akers’ objections by noting the following:

  • Peacemaking criminology does not share all aspects of Marxism. Specifically, it differs with that part of Marxism calling for revolutionary violence. Peacemaking criminology’s commitment is to that part of Marxism which calls for equality.
  • Feminism is consistent with peacemaking criminology, particularly in demonstrating how rigid gender roles have hurt society. A nurturing role is beneficial for both women and men.
  • Traditional criminologists have advocated for many changes in the criminal justice system, but the “war on crime” mentality tends to overshadow those recommendations.
  • Peacemaking criminology argues that people practice peacemaking in their everyday lives. To the extent that this occurs, there will be less crime.

     Akers is not the only critic who asks how peacemaking criminology would propose a structural reorganization of society. Don C. Gibbons, in Talking About Crime and Criminals (1994:172), points out that “…the Pepinsky and Quinney volume have little to say about how the grand-scale changes they propose might be achieved.” However, I would argue that there are many structural changes that could be undertaken in American society that would arguably reduce the suffering that causes crime. Among those changes are:

  1. Institute a universal, single-payer, health care model based on Canadian and European models;
  2. Replace the minimum wage law with a law based on idea of a livable wage.
  3. Make poverty a priority and initiate a broad and sweeping national program to reduce the poverty rate through a system of guaranteed child support for all poor families, year-long Head Start programs, extended unemployment benefits and job retraining, and a national work program based on the Civilian Conservation Corps projects of the 1930s.
  4. Provide free tuition for all students enrolled in community colleges.
  5. Provide free child care for all preschool children (with minimal charge for affluent families).
  6. Expand and provide free mental health care through community mental health facilities for all citizens.
  7. De-criminalize all drug laws and expand free treatment for addicts.
  8. De-institutionalize America’s prisons, reserving prison mostly for violent offenders.
  9. Shift the tax burden from the middle and working classes to the upper economic classes and corporations.
  10. Make a total commitment to the abolition of wage inequality based on sex.<
  11. Redirect economic and social policies to inner cities, especially in housing.
  12. De-militarize American’s political economy, both in terms of spending and war-making policies.
  13. Increase the economic commitment from both public and private sectors to the arts, finding innovative ways to expand arts education and engagement for all citizens.
  14. Launch a massive national commitment to eradicate AIDS/HIV.
  15. Abolish the death penalty.

Restorative Justice as an Option to Criminal Justice.
     The single most important proposal put forward by peacemaking criminologists centers on the notion of restorative justice. It is this idea that peacemaking criminologists see as an opportunity to restructure a significant part of the criminal justice system. While it is reasonable to foresee much of the criminal justice system being maintained for dealing with crimes of violence (murder, rape, robbery, and assault), it is equally foreseeable that many property and drug crimes could be dealt with through a non-criminal justice system.
     According to Van Ness and Strong (2002: 38-43), restorative justice rests on three major propositions: Proposition 1. Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured: victims, communities, and even offenders.
Proposition 2. Those most directly involved and affected by crime – victims, offenders, and community – should have the opportunity to participate as fully in the response as they wish.
Proposition 3. While the government is responsible for preserving a just social order, the community’s role in establishing and maintaining a just peace must be given special significance.
     In other words, restorative justice is a justice system whose primary motive is healing, not punishment. It looks to bring victim and offender together, to promote restitution (both monetary and symbolic), to involve the community in decision-making, and to seek non-violent (i.e., non-prison) solutions to crime. In short, it is not the traditional way we have handled crime. It does not work off retributive principles nor does it ignore victims, as does the current system of criminal justice. Restorative justice looks to options other than trial, plea-bargaining, and jail. In short, peacemaking criminologists see restorative justice as a peacemaking response to crime. Contemporary criminal justice is dominated today by a war model, not a peace model. Restorative justice offers a peace alternative. Rick Sarre (2003: 102-107) offers some examples of what restorative justice looks like in actual practice:

  • Family Conferencing. This is where offenders, victims, family and community members and police are brought together to negotiate a settlement. Offenders confront their wrongs, and the aim is a mutually satisfactory reconciliation.
  • Family Violence Court. This is an “interventionist” court which deals with domestic violence issues and generally seeks treatment for offenders through anger management programs and drug abuse treatment.
  • Mental Health Court. This is a court that takes referrals from police and lower-level magistrates for people who have non-severe mental disorders, yet are in need of mental health intervention through various agencies.
  • Drug Assessment and Aid Panels. This is a pre-court diversionary program now in use in South Australia that works with drug offenders to seek medical, not criminal, solutions for addiction. A “panel” oversees the treatment regimen for these offenders.
  • Customary Law. This is the recognition of tribal and customary law among Indigenous populations in solving many justice issues.
  • Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP). This is a program that can operate at both the pre-court and post-conviction stages. It is designed around the principles of mediation and reconciliation, bringing offender and victim together to repair the damage done by the crime and to have the offender take responsibility for that damage.

     Restorative justice is a new way of thinking about crime and society’s response to it. Restorative justice promotes bringing together offenders and victims and expects offenders to accept responsibility for their actions. It promotes victim healing through reconciliation and offender rehabilitation through treatment, restitution, and reparation. It emphasizes the need to effectively reintegrate offenders back into the community and the related responsibility of the community to play a positive role in that reintegration. Restorative justice is peacemaking criminology’s principal proposal for overhauling the criminal justice system. It may not be a workable proposal for some crimes (many crimes of violence, for instance), but for many property crimes, drug offenses, and juvenile delinquency, it is a very reasonable alternative to incarceration and punishment, the mainstays of today’s criminal justice system.
     Larry Siegel (2002:23) has observed:

All too often criminologists forget the social responsibility they bear as experts in the area of crime and justice….By accepting their roles as experts on law-violating behavior, criminologists place themselves in a  position of power. The potential consequences of their actions are enormous. Therefore, they must be both aware of the ethics of their profession and prepared to defend their work in the light of public scrutiny. Major ethical issues include what to study, whom to study, and how to conduct those studies.

     I propose that peacemaking criminology address Siegel’s concerns in the following ways:
     What to study. Crime is obviously part of what peacemaking criminology should study, but only part. Peacemaking criminologists should also study the institutions that comprise American social structure. We need to focus on the systems of court administration, law enforcement, and corrections. In other words, the focus should be not only on offenders, but also on how society responds to crime. Furthermore, we need to examine those institutions that play a role in producing the suffering that is at the core of the crime problem. This means that we should know more about economic inequality, poverty, racism, sexism, and bias against gays and lesbians. We need to know how schools reproduce academic and personal failure. The focus of peacemaking criminology must be on “criminals,” but also on the social dynamics that produces the suffering that causes criminals.
     Whom to study. Peacemaking criminology must study those in positions of political and social power. It needs to know how lawmakers function, what philosophies motivate judges, and what priorities drive police activities. Peacemaking criminologists should study those who work in mainstream corrections (jailors, prison wardens, correctional officers) and those who would be part of the restorative justice process (mediators, teachers, counselors, therapists). It needs to explore how community activists, religious leaders, and social workers can be brought into ways of reducing suffering. Peacemaking criminologists should be as interested in the persons and agencies that respond to crime as in the criminals.
     How to study.In addition to criminals, peacemaking criminology has the responsibility to engage in only ethical research, committed to the principles of confidentiality and non-violence. Peacemaking criminologists must not conduct studies that contribute to suffering. We must be attentive to the human rights of our subjects, be they criminals or police. We must not allow our research to further a system of oppression, alienation, and mistreatment of law offenders or law enforcers. Whether our work is based on case studies, large-scale survey research, or participant observation, peacemaking criminology must always be dedicated to finding constructive solutions to the social problems that generate crime. Furthermore, peacemaking criminologists must themselves be agents of social change and be engaged in various struggles to promote justice. That means that we have a rightful role to play in the campaigns to abolish the death penalty, to end racial profiling in policing, and to eliminate overly punitive sentencing laws.
     Peacemaking criminology has had a short history, but faces a long and productive future. It offers a realistic cause for crime (human suffering) and a practical response (restorative justice) to crime. It broadens the vision of the criminologist to the structure and processes of the social system, thus breaking away from the narrow vision of examining only law violators. It promotes the principles of human rights, social justice and non-violence. Peacemaking criminology engages the criminologist in the call to action for social change and in the plan for constructing alternatives to oppressive punishment. In short, peacemaking criminology is a criminology for a less violent, saner, and more just American society.

Works Cited

Akers, Ronald L.
     1997     Criminological Theories: Introduction and Evaluation 2nd ed.  Los Angeles:  Roxbury.
     2000     Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application 3rd ed.  Los Angeles:  Roxbury.
Christie, Nils
     1977    “Conflict as Property.”  British Journal of Criminology 17 (1): 1-14.
Fuller, John
     2003     “Peacemaking Criminology.”  Pp. 85-95 in Martin D. Schwartz and Suzanne E. Hatty (eds.), 
                  Controversies in Critical Criminology. Cincinnati:  Anderson.
Gibbons, Don C.
     1994     Talking About Crime and Criminals: Problems and Issues in Theory Development in Criminology.  Englewood Cliffs,
                  N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Hirschi, Travis
     1969     Causes of Delinquency.  Berkeley: University of California Press.
 Pepinsky, Harold and Richard Quinney (eds.)
     1991     Criminology as Peacemaking.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Quinney, Richard
     1991     “The Way of Peace: On Crime, Suffering, and Service.”  Pp. 3-13 in Harold Pepinsky and Richard Quinney (eds.),
                  Criminology as Peacemaking. Bloomington: Indiana University    Press.
Sarre, Rick
     2003     “Restorative Justice: A Paradigm of Possibility.”  Pp. 97-108 in Schwartz, Martin D. and Suzanne E. Hatty (eds.)
                  Controversies in Critical Criminology. Cincinnati: Anderson.
Siegel, Larry J
     2002     Criminology: The Core.  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Sutherland, Edwin
     1947     Principles of Criminology.  Philadelphia:  Lippincott.    
Van Ness, Daniel W. and Karen Heetderks Strong
     2002     Restoring Justice 2nd ed.  Cincinnati: Anderson.

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