Today’s post was written by library student assistant Carmen Venegas.
On the evening of September 22, 2020, the William H. Hannon Library’s Faculty Pub Night featured Samuel Pillsbury, Professor of Law at Loyola Law School. Pillsbury discussed his recent publication, Imagining a Greater Justice: Criminal Violence, Punishment, and Relational Justice.
Pillsbury began by explaining his intentions when writing his book. He knew he wanted to focus on crimes of violence, how they are defined in law, the culpability of the wrongdoers, and finally, the punishment they endure. Additionally, he was committed to making his work personal, and he drew from his own experience many times. With this in mind, Pillsbury began to talk about relational justice.
He expressed his observation that our nation is a divided one these days, containing powerful and personal disagreement on almost all fronts. He continued to explain that the divide is so apparent that the allegiances for different sides seem to override the issues themselves. According to Pillsbury, this is where relational justice comes in. It starts with reconsidering our ideas of who we are (our identity) and what we owe to each other. Then, he explained that through this, we can work to mend relationships that have been destroyed. He related this back to his work by discussing how relationships are destroyed as a result of murder and sexual violence. Survivors of such violence have a damaged ability to make and maintain relationships, which is why it is important for them to seek out resources such as therapy.
He further explained how it is important to pay attention to our relationships with others, including those we do not like, because our connections make up the essence of who we are. For instance, we are in an active relationship with those who are incarcerated because what happens in prison is our responsibility as a community. As people, we have a basic moral obligation to not harm others, and obviously this is violated when such violent crimes are committed, but as Pillsbury pointed out, this morale can also be violated in our responses to violence. Furthermore, he expressed that our current model of justice does very little for the relational healing of victims, which is what they ultimately need most. Once someone has been convicted, it is deemed “over” for the rest of society, but this is not the reality because the lives of the perpetrator and the victim or families of the victim continue.
The next portion of Pillsbury’s presentation consisted of him reading excerpts from his book. In the first excerpt, he recalled his experience visiting a juvenile delinquent center where he saw young, mostly Black and Brown boys, around the ages of 16 and 17 convicted of mainly murder crimes or gang violence. They were faced with a journey into adult California prisons that threatened to take most of their lives, and this is what the people of California wanted. This experience led Pillsbury to think about the legal system and what life in confinement really means for these young men. He noted that they have energy and souls, they miss their families and sing songs about freedom. Pillsbury expressed that they are still trying to comprehend what they had done to bring them to prison in the first place. However, none of this would be taken into account in the court, in fact, it would be deemed irrelevant.
Next, Pillsbury read an excerpt from another chapter about rehabilitation in prison, or what he calls redemption. He began by stating that we actually save money with less incarceration without sacrificing public safety. Further, the “lock them up” mentality is harmful because punishment must be framed as a justice question. He continued with, “The best way to break this mindset, is to prove it wrong.” Pillsbury expressed that those in prison must be given the opportunity to change, and when that change occurs, they must be welcomed back into society. The opportunity to change can be in the form of social programs, therapy, or providing other resources for rehabilitation.
Lastly, Pillsbury explained why he uses the term “relational justice” as opposed to “restorative justice.” He defined restorative justice as a way to bring all of the players in a dispute situation to the table allowing them to talk through the injustice that has occurred, and create solutions that recognize people’s ability to change. However, he noted that it is usually discussed separately from the law, and he believes this is too ambitious for murder and sexual violence crimes. His idea of relational justice includes the law and focuses on the broader idea of what we owe to each other as well as offering people a second chance at life.