A Discussion with Danielle Sered
October 25, 2023
In the aftermath of serious harm, the responses offered by the criminal legal system and its racialized mass incarceration are typically to contain, to incapacitate, and to punish—harshly and swiftly. The criminal legal system does not start from a premise of making the person who was harmed whole, nor does it typically create room for exploring the social and economic and interpersonal conditions that may have led to violence—including prior experiences of victimization. Restorative justice has a different starting point. As speaker Danielle Sered has written in her book Until We Reckon, “almost no one’s entry point into violence is committing it.” After a career working with people and communities affected by the criminal legal system, Danielle developed Common Justice to advance solutions to violence that transform the lives of those harmed and foster racial equity without relying on incarceration. The program operates in New York City as the first alternative-to-incarceration and victim-service program in the United States that focuses on violent felonies in adult courts. Across the country, restorative justice practices are sprouting up in communities and being used to tackle even the most serious forms of harm and violence. For example, in a recent case in North Carolina, a family pursued a resolution through restorative justice after a son killed his father and faced a life sentence for murder. Danielle Sered joined us for a conversation about reckoning with violence on the path toward healing—and how processes of restorative and transformative justice can promote safety and disrupt cycles of violence while reducing or eliminating reliance on incarceration.
Danielle Sered envisioned, launched, and directs Common Justice. She leads the project’s efforts locally and nationally to develop and advance practical and groundbreaking solutions to violence that advance racial equity, meet the needs of those harmed, and do not rely on incarceration. Before planning the launch of Common Justice, Danielle served as the deputy director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Adolescent Reentry Initiative, a program for young men returning from incarceration on Rikers Island. Prior to joining Vera, she worked at the Center for Court Innovation's Harlem Community Justice Center, where she led its programs for court-involved and recently incarcerated youth. An Ashoka fellow and Stoneleigh fellow, Danielle received her BA from Emory University and her master's degrees from New York University and Oxford University (UK), where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. Her book, Until We Reckon, was honored with the Award for Journalism from the National Association for Community and Restorative Justice and selected by the National Book Foundation for its Literature for Justice recognition. Danielle has been featured widely in the public conversation about mass incarceration and violence, including the Aspen Ideas Festival the Atlantic Magazine Summit on Race and Justice, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, Democracy Now, NPR, and On Second Thought with Trevor Noah. Danielle is the author of the reports The Other Side of Harm: Addressing Disparities in our Responses to Violence, of Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration, and the book Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair.
Moderated by Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.
Links to resources mentioned during the event
More on Until We Reckon here: https://thenewpress.com/books/until-we-reckon
For some of Danielle's prior writings on this topic, check out "Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration," a 2017 report published by the Vera Institute of Justice: https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/accounting-for-violence.pdf
For some of the research on prisons being criminogenic:
- Petrich et al., Custodial Sanctions and Reoffending: A Meta-Analytic Review
- Vieraitis et al., The Criminogenic Effects of Imprisonment: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1974–2002
- Nagin et al., Imprisonment and Reoffending
- Stemen, The Prison Paradox: More Incarceration Will Not Make Us Safer
The 2022 report from the Alliance for Safety and Justice "Crime Survivors Speak: National Survey of Victims' Views on Safety and Justice" includes quantitative and qualitative data about victims' views on law enforcement, rehabilitation v. punishment, and how survivors' needs can be better met.
For some research on restorative justice programs, see:
- Latimer et al., The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis
- Wilson et al., Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Principles in Juvenile Justice: A Meta-Analysis
For folks interested in this particular topic -- of the tensions in how to create off-ramps into community-led restorative justice from existing criminal legal actors/institutions -- there is a webinar from the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay on "Restorative Justice in Action: New Approaches in the Most Serious Cases."
- For one piece on issues around co-optation of RJ processes by the criminal legal system, see this law review article by Shailly Agnihotri & Cassie Veach, Reclaiming Restorative Justice: An Alternate Paradigm for Justice
- For an example of a recent case in which the Durham County DA Satana DeBerry embraced restorative justice in a case involving murder, read this piece or listen to the associated podcast: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jun/26/restorative-justice-murder-charge-prison-don-fields
- And for another webinar recording from this summer regarding some prosecutors' embrace of diverting cases to community-led RJ (in Burlington, VT, in Alameda County, CA, in Denver, CO, and in Cook County, IL), see: https://ncorj.org/videos/webinar-recording-restorative-justice-for-prosecutors/
For further resources about restorative justice, check out these resources from:
- Impact/Justice: https://impactjustice.org/news-resources/?type=&program=restorative-justice
- Restorative Justice Exchange: https://restorativejustice.org/resources/
- Transform Harm: https://transformharm.org/restorative-justice/?_sft_rj_category=rj-articles
The Abolitionist Politics, Practices, and Horizons speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.