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Phillipe Copeland

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Why America Needs Another Kind of Justice

George Zimmerman's trial and its conclusion were a lesson in the limitations of retributive justice and the need for restorative approaches.


The verdict is in. George Zimmerman will not spend a day in prison for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Whether your response to the verdict was glee, grief, or indifference, there are lessons to be learned. Much of the national conversation has centered on whether or not justice was served. For me, the trial and its conclusion were a lesson in the limitations of retributive justice and the need for restorative approaches to justice.

What's the difference? Retributive justice is primarily focused on addressing the harm done to crime victims and the wider society through punishing the offender. This is the tradition of justice with which most of us are most familiar and it has its place in the social order. Punishment can provide a sense to victims and perpetrators alike that people are held accountable for their actions, that wrongdoing will be rectified in some way. However, I have lost faith in our ability to punish our way to better human beings or a better world. In the United States we have certainly tried.

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