The Complex Criminal Justice System

Andrew DeStefano

Professor Harris

English 110 R3


Spelman, throughout all of her book Repair, proves to be a master on the subject of repair through her detailed explanations of varying situations and scenarios where repair is involved. Spelman speaks of the criminal justice system and its involvement with the repairing of society and individuals on the wrong side of the system; furthermore, she seems to generalize the criminal justice system on behalf of people who support the idea of “restorative justice”. She explains that proponents of “restorative justice” believe the criminal justice system fails not only society, but the victim and offender. From this perspective, the justice system seems to be working for itself, maintaining and displaying its own power, while betraying its true purpose which is to serve the people.

The criminal justice system, a complex and surprisingly changeable body, cannot be limited to one mere paragraph or any one generalization. People experience this system in many different ways, whether good or bad experiences, everyone should see aspects of it in their lifetime. Personally, my time spent with the CJS (criminal justice system) was through my father a now Supreme Court Justice for Nassau County in Long Island. Where I learned the most about this system was not through books nor classes; it was through witnessing real cases back when my father was a District Court Judge. The way proponents of restorative justice describe the CJS is a description I cannot wholeheartedly agree with:

But the existing criminal justice system pays almost no attention-or the wrong kind of attention- to the victims, pay only lip service to the damage done to the community, and has abandoned any thought of punishment as reparative for the offender- in fact, it tends to treat offenders as unsalvageable or not worth repair. (Spelman 54)

My experiences of my father doing his job as a District Court Judge, taught me that the description of the restorative justice ideas is one that is simply too general for acceptance. My dad as a judge was in no way working against the offender or working for himself. Everything he did was trying to better that individual, regardless of their offense, he could understand certain situations and apply the law in a way that could benefit all parties involved. He did not look at an offender and see hopelessness; however, he saw someone who needs help, and the only person in the world at that time who could help was him. The criminal justice system is not as unforgiving as it seems, but of course there are times where the system fails leading to ill feelings toward it. I do not see my father as an agent of retribution and punishment; however, I see him as quite the opposite- an agent of restoration, of repair.

Spelman speaks of “restorative justice” as being the absent justice from this world; the requests of the proponents of restorative justice are described as “ambitious in scope,” otherwise not current. I do not believe an essential part of the criminal justice system is missing in this area…yet, Spelman, on behalf of restorative justice, believes differently:

…the kind of repair asked for by proponents of the restorative justice movement seems ambitious in scope- practitioners of the project hope to repair the current justice system and to turn all of us, potentially, in to repairers- and lofty in its calling: Such repair is embraced as being essential to justice. (Spelman 52)

Of course, Spelman recognizes the current justice system has moments of repair; she says, “…it can be described untendentiously as involving repair.” So, this means the current or “retributive” justice system is unfavorable and does not carry out ideal versions of repair. I do believe the criminal justice system as a whole is failing. Proponents of restorative justice say a main factor of the current justice system’s downfall is the lack of assistance for the counsel and victim. Yes, I agree that more should be done. But, there must be large factors of our current “retributive” system when it comes to cases such as larceny, homicide, etc. in order to set adequate punishments and keep peace. The government and justice system should not be fully reliable for the complete rehabilitation of the victim and offender in cases so severe as the previously mentioned crimes. As citizens, We accept our rights and liberties as written by congress, enforced and accepted by the president, and determined constitutional by the Courts. In regards to that belief, we must accept that the government has never been responsible for this particular assistance among citizens and cannot be expected to start now. According to, Americans are split on the idea of more or less government intervention in the lives of citizens; however, when it comes to taxes 84% of people want either less or similar to current government involvement. The point being is, it is difficult for the American people to pick-and-choose what areas of life we want government involvement, and we cannot expect a total turnaround in the entire justice system.

In the previous paragraph, I, in a sense “went out of my way” to establish the certain cases I meant to reference such as larceny, homicide, etc. I highlighted those specific cases because less reform is needed there, while most of the reform in the criminal justice system should be focused on a different type of crime. Victimless crime, the crime that government, justice system, yet not even most citizens, see as a primary focus. Crimes involving: drugs, public order, property crimes, etc. are all victimless crimes. Offenders of these crimes make up a whopping 86% of the Federal prison population; in addition, 15% of all prisoners are held in the US, so one can imagine the number of victimless crime offenders. When it comes to this certain crime, Restorative justice should come in to full force and kick the old retributive justice system out of the way. To use a personal example, a family member of mine suffered with drug abuse and had to deal with the criminal justice system in full effect. This family member was sent to jail and returned to similar behavior upon release. When the justice system decided to use a more restorative approach, it was determined that he would go through extensive rehab and kept a tab on for many years to come. I personally and currently am witnessing this process work; my family member is crime free due to the actions of the criminal justice system. In this scenario, the criminal justice system works in favor of the offender (really a victim) and the community as a whole.

Putting things in to perspective, my ideas of justice are circulated around a combination of restorative justice and retributive justice. A necessary fluidity in this combination must be reached in order to work efficiently and for the benefit of the American people. Spelman describes restorative justice and retributive justice as not mutually exclusive, but there is a much greater preference for restorative justice. Retributive justice is ‘the second best’ option behind restorative in all cases, according to proponents of restorative justice. In this explanation by Spelman, it can be determined that restorative justice is simply separate from retributive justice. Our traditional justice system seems to focus on punishment and isolation of criminals and not reintegration or repair of criminals according to supporters of restorative justice. However, it is apparent that there is always a reintegration of offenders through modes such as probation and parole. In light of that small fact, we must realize that aspects of restorative and retributive justice are present in our justice system; nevertheless there are reforms needed where restorative justice would be the solution.


Home is Where the Heart is.

Andrew DeStefano

Professor Harris

English 110


In regard to the household and its overt importance, Spelman summarizes in several lines at the end of chapter three:

It is by default the institution for aiding and abetting the natural bodily processes of repair; for mending spirits frayed or broken by the wear and tear of life, by the damaging effects of its pleasures as well as its pains; and for providing informal lessons about the reparable and irreparable. (Spelman 50)

Throughout chapter 3 in Spelman’s Repair, she speaks of the household in an analogous manner displaying its similarities to a repair shop. This view or insight struck me; we all know of the household as a repair shop, yet in my mind this idea never manifested. Every person is fully aware of the household’s recharging abilities in one way or another. Spelman categorizes the household’s repairing effects in three ways according to the summary at the end of chapter three; however, through reading chapters one to three, more than just three categories of the household are apparent. A single repair that comes to mind not explicitly spoken of by Spelman, would be a repair or enhancement of family connection and the values upheld within the household.

In just about two weeks of college, I have experienced a sort of amnesia when it comes to my home and family. I do not believe there has been an official disconnect between myself and the values upheld in my home; nonetheless, a form of disconnect is developing because “its college”. Partying and some other college activities usually do not coincide with what my family considers correct behavior, but a slight acceptance of my participation in these activities has formulated. My parents have accepted my independence as a man and college student under certain circumstances; I have my freedom within reasonable boundaries. Regardless of my parents reasonableness, I feel myself separating from my family in not necessarily bad ways, but there still is a separation. Through Spelman’s words and insight on the ideas of repair and the household, I truly believe my entrance into my household- during a break or visit-will immediately repair this feeling of disconnect. I have not lost my connection to my family, nor have I lost fully my family values, but my expectation would be a 100% re-connection with my family and 100% reclamation of my family values upon entering my household once again.

Spelman’s explanation of the household’s ability to repair is sufficient enough to determine the household as a mecca of repair. She visualizes the home as a place for physical repair- a necessity for a functioning human being. Without the daily repair of showering, sleeping, etc., many difficulties would arise for working and active members of the world. She also describes the mending of spirits and the household’s ability to console and repair a damaged or broken person. Through parents and their daily teachings, or even kids and what they can teach parents, the household is a place for spiritual and emotional repair. Any one person with some sort of home can relate to what Spelman has projected; we have all been repaired numerous times even without our knowledge, and we should acknowledge our households as a primary contributor to that fact.