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By Jeff Bradley and Maria Basualdo 

Inspired by the work of the Millhaven Lifers’ Liaison Group, which is an OPIRG action group, last year with the support of several summer students, we developed training resources on issues with the penal system, the root causes of harm, and how to work in solidarity with incarcerated people by building relationships to support their needs, finding ways to address their concerns, supporting their eventual release into the community, and advocating for prisoners’ rights. This led to an accumulation of knowledge about the systemic issues in the prison system and failures of the criminal legal system as well as the need for alternative forms of justice that focus on healing, accountability, safety, reparation, and liberation. OPIRG’s community-based research program has also been supporting Jeffrey Bradley in his Ph.D. research exploring participants’ experiences with transformative justice processes for sexual violence. Jeff’s research was very connected to the previous work and training we did for the Millhaven Lifers’ Liaison Group. At this point of the work some community actions were needed as the logical next step, based on the preliminary findings which found that there is a need for awareness raising, training practitioners, and testing how transformative justice approaches can work in different contexts. During this winter Jeff and Maria ran eight sessions of a transformative justice training, which has started the foundation for a transformative justice community of practice.    

Twenty two participants registered for the training and slowly a space was created where we reflected on the harmful impacts of the punitive injustice system and imagined a new form of justice through transformation and accountability. We are now exploring training resources and tools for students to facilitate transformative justice processes for conflict and harm that are participant-driven, human-centred, trauma-informed, intersectional, anti-oppressive, and strength-based.   

The training school covered:   

  • Systemic issues that produce marginalization (colonialism, racism, classism, sexism, heteropatriarchy, and ableism) which are social, economic, cultural, and political. Individual behaviours reproduce systemic oppression and reify the existing system.   
  •  How the current criminal legal system is focused on punishing, exploiting, othering, and benefiting the powerful. Racial profiling and police violence, adversarial justice is white supremacist, prison industrial complex (prisons the new form of slavery), hyper-incarceration of BIPOC, disabled, 2SLGBTQI+, poor people, dehumanization in the police and prison system (monopoly over the use of violence, solitary confinement, hyper-policing impoverished communities, and racial minorities).  
  • Carceral abolition as a framework to dismantle the punitive injustice system and build transformative justice and mutual aid.   
  • Transformative justice as a political movement and approach that address personal and structural harm.  
  • Tensions and challenges of transformative justice to work outside the criminal legal system but still in a capitalist and settler colonial context.   
  • Examples, scenarios, and tools for facilitating TJ processes with community members and with the consent of survivors, people who cause harm, and others impacted.