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Moral Restorative Justice: A Political Genealogy of Activism and Neoliberalism in the United States

By Amy J. Cohen. Full Text.

For decades, proponents of restorative justice on the political left have wondered if their preference for “less state” would attract complex bedfellows and political alliances. But it was only as the crisis of mass incarceration hit American cultural and political consciousness that an increasingly wide range of libertarian and conservative political organizations and actors began to promote restorative ideals. This Article traces changing political, theological, and ideological articulations of restorative justice from the 1970s to now, knit together by a common grammar of relationality. It argues that today, restorative justice exemplifies a distinctively moral form of neoliberalism, complicating the arguments of scholars who describe right-wing criminal justice reform as exemplifying cost-cutting and efficiency. This account of restorative justice, in turn, reveals different possibilities and dangers for bipartisan collaborations: moral-relational values may be genuinely shared as they compete to establish highly disparate political, economic, and social visions.