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From carceral feminism to transformative justice: Women-of-color feminism and alternatives to incarceration

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Racial injustice at the intersections of interpersonal and state violence sets the stage for this examination of mainstream responses to domestic and sexual violence. At one end of this continuum is carceral feminism, a term signaling feminist reliance upon law enforcement as a dominant intervention strategy. At the other end is a growing tide of responses to gender violence alternative to criminalization, largely led by people of color. These restorative and transformative justice interventions offer new anti-violence options. They also prompt a re-imagining of the role of social work in relationship to social justice and social movements.
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From carceral feminism to transformative justice:
Women-of-color feminism and alternatives to
incarceration
Mimi E. Kim
To cite this article: Mimi E. Kim (2018) From carceral feminism to transformative justice: Women-
of-color feminism and alternatives to incarceration, Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social
Work, 27:3, 219-233, DOI: 10.1080/15313204.2018.1474827
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/15313204.2018.1474827
Published online: 30 May 2018.
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From carceral feminism to transformative justice:
Women-of-color feminism and alternatives to
incarceration
Mimi E. Kim
School of Social Work, California State University, Long Beach, CA, USA
ABSTRACT
Racial injustice at the intersections of interpersonal and state
violence sets the stage for this examination of mainstream
responses to domestic and sexual violence. At one end of
this continuum is carceral feminism, a term signaling feminist
reliance upon law enforcement as a dominant intervention
strategy. At the other end is a growing tide of responses to
gender violence alternative to criminalization, largely led by
people of color. These restorative and transformative justice
interventions offer new anti-violence options. They also
prompt a re-imagining of the role of social work in relationship
to social justice and social movements.
KEYWORDS
Domestic violence; carceral
feminism; restorative justice;
transformative justice;
intersectionality
In Jacksonville, Florida, the city where an African-American youth named
Trayvon Martin lost his life to gun violence perpetrated in the name of public
safety, Marissa Alexander, a young African-American woman and survivor of
domestic violence, lost her liberty due to a similarly distorted interpretation
of homeland security.The juxtaposition of these two stories, both reaching
public recognition in 2012, serves to illustrate the multiple levels at which the
contemporary practice and policies of public safety and criminal justice
entrap and destroy black and brown bodies.
The racial injustices underpinning the death of Trayvon Martin and the
subsequent state response sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a social
movement building upon generations of African-American protest against
racialized police and prosecutorial violence (Garza, 2014). The lesser known
story of Marissa Alexander inspired a parallel and intersecting set of grass-
roots campaigns, raising awareness of how women of color frequently
become the target of policing for actions that are more appropriately viewed
through the lens of self-defense (Bierria, Shim, Kim, & Kane, 2015; Gross,
2015). Florida State Attorney Angela Corey reached prominence as the
prosecutor of George Zimmerman, a man eventually acquitted of all criminal
CONTACT Mimi E. Kim mimi.eunmi.kim@gmail.com School of Social Work, California State University,
1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, Berkeley, CA 90840, USA
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/wecd
This article is original and is not under review nor published by another source.
JOURNAL OF ETHNIC & CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN SOCIAL WORK
2018, VOL. 27, NO. 3, 219233
https://doi.org/10.1080/15313204.2018.1474827
© 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
charges for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. The same Angela Corey
attempted to impose a 60-year prison sentence for Marissa Alexander,
whose most serious charge was shooting a warning shot into the ceiling of
her home in an attempt to fend off her violent husband. Alexander was
finally set free on January 27, 2015. She was held, however, under house
arrest, after negotiating release based upon three years served on a guilty plea
to three felony counts. It was her initial refusal to plead guilty to charges she
knew were unjust that set off a legal battle that almost cost her 60 years
behind bars, separated from her three children, the youngest who was a
newborn the day these tragic events began to unfold (Bierria et al., 2015).
While full details of this case and that of Trayvon Martin extend beyond the
scope of this article, the facts behind Marissa Alexanders criminal charges
highlight the intersectional race and gender aspect of mass incarceration.For
social movement actors and advocates addressing gender violence including
domestic violence, sexual assault and, more recently, stalking and sex traffick-
ing, it also raises the specter of what some call the unintended consequences
of demands for criminalization championed over the past four decades by a
broad sector of the mainstream feminist anti-violence movement.
The battered womens movement, the anti-rape movement, and, more
recently, the anti-sex trafficking movement have their own historical trajec-
tories, dynamics, and strategies. Together, they form what is sometimes
known as the anti-violence movement, one credited with monumental
changes in public awareness and state policies aimed at responding to gender
violence, ever-pervasive forms of violence barely recognized just 40 years ago.
Progressive critics, however, have argued that many of these gains were made
through the anti-violence movements collaboration with the increasing U.S.
investments in criminalization.
Carceral feminism, a term more recently developed to articulate the active
mobilization of the criminal justice system as a response to sex trafficking, is now
used more generally as a critique leveled against mainstream forms of feminism
associated with gender violence (Bernstein, 2005,2012). This label points to
decades of feminist anti-violence collaboration with the carceral state or that part
of the government most associated with the institutions of police, prosecution,
courts, and the system of jails, prisons, probation, and parole. Whereas the
welfare state aims to provide benefits and the redistribution of resources espe-
cially to the most vulnerable parts of the population, the carceral state focuses on
activities of surveillance, arrest, and incarceration, often targeting the same
sectors of the marginalized population who are recipients of welfare benefits
(Gallo & Kim, 2016; Soss, Fording, & Schram, 2011;Wacquant,2009).
The facts of race-based and class-based disproportionality that have
ignited past and present protests against police violence are stark. Today,
one in three African-American men will be involved in the criminal justice
system in their lifetime (Bonczar, 2003). Despite a recent but slight reversal
220 M. E. KIM
in a more than 30-year upward trend in rates of incarceration, African-
American men are still 9 times more likely to be incarcerated than White
men (Carson, 2015). And the numbers of women entering jails and prisons
are currently increasing at a rate higher than that of men, rising by an
alarming 646% between 1980 and 2010 (The Sentencing Project, 2012).
Again, the figures are disproportionately weighted against women of color
although not to the extent revealed in the statistics for males. According to
2014 figures, African-American women are twice as likely to be incarcerated
than White women (Carson, 2015).
This article begins with an explanation of the role of neoliberalism and
policies of mass incarceration in the formation of the U.S. context for main-
stream feminist demands for the criminalization of gender violence. It follows
with a historical overview of the leadership of women and people of color in the
critique of criminalization in response to gender violence. The next section
outlines interventions proposed as alternatives to criminalization including
restorative justice, transformative justice, and community-based interventions
to gender violence. The article concludes with a summary and reflections on the
emerging political context including the critical role of the transgender rights
movement in formulating future critiques and innovations.
Methods
This article is a synthesis of feminist, social movement, and critical legal
scholarship regarding the unprecedented rise in rates of incarceration in the
United States and its relationship to pro-criminalization feminist social move-
ment strategies. The historical and conceptual framework is supported by
empirical data drawn from interviews and archival sources from the authors
historical research on the formative years of the anti-domestic violence move-
ment and the early construction of carceral feminism. References to historical
and current events and their relevance to contemporary feminist, social move-
ment, and critical legal scholarship are further informed by the authors
personal experiences in the anti-violence social movement and participation
in current activities aimed to create alternatives to criminalization.
Neoliberalism and the advent of carceral feminism
The critique giving rise to the term carceral feminism fundamentally centers on
the depoliticization of a social movement with politically radical roots. While the
anti-violence movement emerged from the civil rights and more radical left
movements that were at their fore in the 1960s, the timing of the surge in the
womens movement giving birth to anti-violence initiatives also coincided with a
decline of these previous race-centered movements (Giddings, 1984; Schechter,
1982). With the 1970s, the conservative tide of neoliberalism began to seep into
JOURNAL OF ETHNIC & CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN SOCIAL WORK 221
the U.S. political agenda and public mind-set. Neoliberal ideology and system of
governance is tied to a fundamental trust in free market forces, the belief in a
small non-regulatory government and the value of individual responsibility
(Garland, 2001;Sossetal.,2011). Hence, neoliberalism fueled the climate of
growing distrust of U.S. investment in poverty alleviation and redistribution that
justified a sharp reduction in welfare benefits as exemplified by the passage of the
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
(PRWORA; Soss et al., 2011). With growing attacks against the U.S. welfare
state and the stigmatizing of welfare recipients came the increasing belief that
crime should be the focus of public and, hence, governmental efforts (Garland,
2001;Simon,2007). The retrenchment of the welfare state went hand-in-hand
with the increasing investment in the criminal justice system, not only in terms of
public attitudes but, more importantly, through dramatic shifts in governmental
resources (Wacquant, 2009).
Indeed, crime became a centerpiece of public discourse and also became a
coded language for talking about race (Weaver, 2007). While feminist anti-
violence movement actors were often explicitly anti-racist, they also became
aware that gender violence in the form of rape and domestic violence would gain
public support and resources if seen through the lens of crime control (Bumiller,
2008). Gender violence as a crime became a rallying point for feminists to fight
for institutional change and to attempt to gain popular support for what was
already becoming the growing preoccupation with crime (Goodmark, 2011;
Gottschalk, 2006;Kim,2012;Richie,2012).
As a movement that developed with the emergence of neoliberalism in the
1970s, a once politicized feminist social movement eventually succumbed to
pressures to professionalize and adopt an individualized direct service, case
management model of service delivery (Bumiller, 2008). At the same time,
demands for public awareness and accountability for what became known as
the pervasive problem of gender violence focused on measures to expand
criminal justice responses to domestic and sexual violence. The path to
strengthened criminal legislation and institutional investments in policies
and practices led by police, prosecutors, and courts contributed to the shift
from gender violence envisioned as a broad social and political problem to
one defined more narrowly as a crime (Goodmark, 2011).
As Figure 1 illustrates, the feminist anti-violence movement which had its
contemporary start in the early 1970s coincides with the growth of the carceral
state (Pleck, 1987). Starting in 1973, rates of incarceration took a sharp upward
turn from levels previously stable for decades. Over the course of the next 40 years,
rates of incarceration increased 500%, with only a slight decline starting in 2009
(Bonczar, 2003;Carson,2015). This unprecedented expansion of criminalization
led to the condition that many now recognize as mass incarceration (Alexander,
2010;Garland,2001)orhyper-incarceration, the latter term intended to highlight
the narrow race and class focus of carceral attention (Wacquant, 2009).
222 M. E. KIM
Although debates regarding involvement with the criminal justice system
were active during the formative period of the anti-violence movement, the
trend to pursue a dominant strategy of criminalization prevailed (Goodmark,
2011;Richie,2012; Schechter, 1982). Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, those
crime control policies that are now associated with the extraordinary expan-
sion of the U.S. carceral state were among those pursued by the feminist anti-
violence movement. For example, the addition of domestic violence to the
criminal code, the enhancement of criminal penalties for gender violence, and
the passage of state legislation supporting mandatory arrest are among policies
demanded by the mainstream feminist anti-violence movement (Goodmark,
2011;Mills,1999;Schechter,1982). By 1994, the anti-violence movement
pushed to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as part of the
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Crime Bill). This
explicit joining of gender violence under a crime bill marked the concretization
and acceleration of the collaboration between the feminist anti-violence move-
ment and the agenda of law enforcement (Bumiller, 2008; Kim, 2012).
Leadership of women of color in the critique against criminalization
Critical race scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989,1991)first coined the term inter-
sectionality, referring to the differential set of experiences, social context, and policy
impacts of individuals and groups based upon the intersections of race, gender,
class, and other social categories. It was specifically the vastly varied experiences of
domestic and sexual violence among African-American women and other women
of color, including immigrants, that inspired her detailed documentation of
Figure 1. Rates of incarceration and timeline of the feminist anti-violence movement. Adapted
from Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics (Table 6.28, p. 500), by K. Maguire, (Ed.), 2003,
Albany, NY: University at Albany, Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Center and Prisoners in
2014 (Table 5, p. 7), by. E. A. Carson, Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
JOURNAL OF ETHNIC & CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN SOCIAL WORK 223
disproportionate vulnerability to violence among marginalized women and her
initial illustrations of intersectional analysis. Crenshaws conceptualization of
intersectionality also raised strident criticisms of mainstream White-dominated
feminist scholarship and policies that ignored and often exacerbated the oppressive
and violent conditions of women of color in the United States. Crenshawsanalysis
articulated concerns raised by many women of color who identified with feminist
anti-violence struggles, but for whom the mainstream feminist movements
domestic violence and sexual assault programs and policies were often irrelevant
or antithetical to the interests of their communities (Kim, 2012).
Despite the small yet significant participation of women of color in the for-
mative years of the anti-violence movement in the 1970s and 1980s, the critique of
criminalization even among women of color within the anti-violence movement
remained uneven throughout the 1970s and muted by the 1980s (Richie, 2012;
Schechter, 1982). In the mid-1970s, the prominent case of Joan Little, a young
African-American woman who faced the death penalty for the killing of a jail
guard in self-defense as he sexually assaulted her in her jail cell, prompted wide-
spread protest, including women in the anti-violence movement. Joan Littlescase
provided a vivid example of how the targeting of women of color by the criminal
justice system tied directly to subjection to sexualized state violence (Bierria, Kim,
&Rojas,2011;Thuma,2015). Such cases of women of color, victims of inter-
personal and state violence, including that of Inez García and Yvonne Wanrow,
were widely publicized throughout the mid- to late 1970s (Thuma, 2015), but did
not lead to an overarching analysis of race, gender, and state violence with the
vigor to reverse trends that effectively strengthened policing (Richie, 2012).
Women-of-color activism within the broader feminist anti-violence move-
ment consolidated within the Women of Color Caucus as part of the
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the early 1980s and the
First National Conference on Third World Women and Violence in 1981,
organized by African-American leaders of the DC Rape Crisis Center
(Schechter, 1982; Thuma, 2015). However, the numerical and political dom-
inance of White women within the anti-violence movement suppressed the
potential of a more unified alternative platform and set of strategies led by
women of color (Richie, 2012). Rather, women-of-color anti-violence acti-
vism taking place throughout the late 1970s and 1980s translated into more
narrowly focused demands for greater representation in terms of numbers
within membership bodies, task forces, and caucuses, and greater influence
in terms of placement in positions of power.
By the mid-1990s, the influential voice of critics such as Crenshaw and the
rising tide of more alarming law and orderpolicies, exemplified by man-
datory arrest in situations of domestic violence, eventually prompted more
widespread concern particularly among progressive voices within the anti-
violence movement (Maguigan, 2002; Mills, 1999). It would not be until the
turn of the millennium that a growing chorus of critics and mounting
224 M. E. KIM
evidence of the harms of the expanding criminal justice system mobilized a
new social movement response to both gender violence and police violence
(Bierria et al., 2011).
In March 2000 with the emergence of INCITE! Women of Color Against
Violence, now called INCITE! Women and Trans People of Color Against
Violence (Incite!), at its founding Color of Violence conference, a women-of-
color organizational formation gathered force (INCITE! Women of Color
Against Violence, 2006). Unlike earlier gatherings among women of color
within the anti-violence movement, a critique of the criminal justice system
and of the mainstream anti-violence movements embrace of that system
stood solidly at the center of the renewed movement. The articulation of an
explicitly feminist anti-gender violence and anti-criminalization stance
opened the door to a broad critique of the dominant feminist criminalization
approach among a growing cross-racial group of anti-violence advocates and
policymakers, legal scholars, and feminist and racial justice activists (Bierria
et al., 2011; Sokoloff, 2005). Critiques of criminalization have since lined up
along a continuum of political positions expressed by concerns over the
overreliance on the criminal justice system(DasGupta, 2003), the identifi-
cation of pro-criminalization forms of feminism as carceral feminism
(Bernstein, 2005,2012), and a call for an analysis of responses to gender
violence that align with a more radical vision of prison abolition (Bierria
et al., 2011; INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, 2006). Together,
these positions inform various and multiple ways in which once-hegemonic
feminist anti-violence demands for criminalization are losing ground.
Alternative visions and practices: Restorative justice, transformative
justice, and community accountability
The critique of mainstream feminist pro-criminalization strategies to address
domestic and sexual violence has inspired alternative visions for violence
prevention and intervention. It has also sparked a new vocabulary represent-
ing their underlying principles and practices. Most commonly, the terms
restorative justice and transformative justice have been used to describe
responses to gender violence that challenge punitive, retributive criminal
responses to gender violence.
Restorative justice is the most long-standing and familiar concept attrib-
uted to alternative responses to violence. In its contemporary form, restora-
tive justice practices originated in New Zealand in the 1980s to address Māori
youths who were and continue to be significantly overrepresented in the
criminal justice system (Blagg, 2002). While the types of processes identified
as restorative justice vary widely, they shift the focus from an adversarial
binary of victim and perpetrator to one that acknowledges the impact of
harm not only on individuals but on broader communities. Restorative
JOURNAL OF ETHNIC & CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN SOCIAL WORK 225
justice processes offer a collective forum elevating the voice of the victim or
survivor, recognizing the impact of violence on community members, and
allowing the perpetrator of harm to more fully understand the multiple levels
of impact. Unlike the retributive criminal justice system, the aim is not
punishment but restoration, rehabilitation, and the healthy reintegration of
all parties back into the community (Braithwaite & Strang, 2001).
While it remains primarily used to address issues of juvenile justice, restora-
tive justice has very tentatively been considered in response to domestic or
sexual violence (Ptacek, 2010,2014; Strang & Braithwaite, 2002). The applica-
tion has been mostly confined to New Zealand, aboriginal communities in
Australia, and within some Native American communities in Canada and the
United States (Blagg, 2002;Burford,1999; Coker, 1999,2006; Ptacek, 2010).
Renewed interest in restorative justice has led to its explicit application in a
handful of U.S. programs addressing domestic violence, including The Resolve
to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP), run by the San Francisco Sheriffs
Department (Gilligan & Lee, 2005), and Circles of Peace, also a criminal
justice-led initiative in Nogales, Arizona (Mills, Barocas, & Ariel, 2013). As
these examples illustrate, restorative justice, while developed as an alternative
to punitive criminal justice processes, is still largely practiced within and
sanctioned by the criminal justice system (Smith, 2010). Established as a
diversionary option within law enforcement, restorative justice proceedings
often rely on the involvement of at least one state agent, such as a police officer
or judge. The monitoring of participation and outcomes also remains within or
closely tied to state systems of crime control.
Because of the reliance of restorative justice programs on law enforcement,
another set of alternatives has been identified under the general rubric of
transformative justice. In contrast to restorative justice, transformative justice
has been popularized largely within social movement spaces aligned with the
politics of prison abolition, a term signifying opposition not only to the criminal
justice system but also to reform measures that can serve to legitimize the
existing system of crime control (Generation FIVE, 2007;Herzing&
Ontiveros, 2011). Rejecting the criminal justice system as primarily responsible
for the violent oppression of marginalized communities, transformative justice
responses to gender violence and other forms of interpersonal or community
violence seek resolutions within more intimate systems of community or civil
society (Bierria et al., 2011;Coker,2002). Following more radical political
traditions, transformative justice relies upon the leadership and interests of
marginalized communities. At the level of individual- or community-level acts
of violence, those most impacted by violence understand best the immediate and
underlying conditions in which interpersonal acts of violence are embedded
(Generation FIVE, 2007). Ultimately, as community members directly impacted
by violence but also sharing home and collective space with victims and perpe-
trators of violence, they hold the potential for greater investment in the well-
226 M. E. KIM
being of all parties involved and the creation of conditions that could prevent
future harm, including that perpetrated by the state (Bierria et al., 2011).
Transformation, as opposed to restoration, also explicitly recognizes that
interpersonal forms of violence take place within the context of structural
conditions including poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and
other systemic forms of violence (Bierria et al., 2011; Coker, 2002;
Generation FIVE, 2007). Joining a critical analysis of neoliberal conditions
of welfare retrenchment and mass incarceration, this view understands the
criminal justice system as one that serves to maintain conditions of structural
violence. Such a system cannot then be trusted to intervene in harm (Smith,
2010). While the term restoration implies the desire to return to such
conditions, transformation requires moving beyond.
Because transformative justice solutions tend to lie within marginalized
communities and more radical social movement spaces outside of institu-
tions, these processes have been informal, decentralized, and largely undo-
cumented (Bierria et al., 2011). In fact, they have built upon many of the
principles and practices of restorative justice but moved to informal, de-
institutionalized contexts in which informal social networks and fellow
community members serve as facilitators and supporters (Kelly, 2011; Kim,
2011). Organizations taking up transformative justice practices have tended
to be located outside of nonprofit or service delivery organizations (Chen,
Dulani, & Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2011).
This emphasis on community or collective responses has also led to an
affiliation with terms such as community accountability or community-based
responses that highlight this level of prioritization (Bierria et al., 2011; Kim,
2010). Such references shift the focus of violence from individual actors to
communities, the latter taking a role both as perpetrators and casualties of
violence. Communities are also sites for prevention, intervention, and transfor-
mation, spaces where interventions can be imagined, initiated, and implemen-
ted. The emphasis on the level of community is also posed as an alternative and
challenge to the authority of the criminal justice system, child welfare system, or
even nonprofit organizations (Bierria et al., 2011;Chenetal.,2011).
For example, Phillys Pissed and Philly Stands Up emerged as organiza-
tional responses to sexual assaults within the anarchist punk community in
Philadelphia (Kelly, 2011). Initially focused on enforcing community-based
consequencesfor violence, their evolving responses drew upon practices
and principles developed by restorative justice practitioners and the more
explicitly radical politics of transformative justice. Over time, Philly Stands
Up created long-term processes for engaging perpetrators of violence or
people who caused harmthat provide both an anti-oppression critique
and a supportive and healing community context for accountability.
In 2004, Creative Interventions emerged in the San Francisco area to pilot
community-based interventions to domestic and sexual violence. In collaboration
JOURNAL OF ETHNIC & CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN SOCIAL WORK 227
with primarily immigrant anti-violence organizations, Creative Interventions
aligned with the politics of transformative justice while responding to the prag-
matic need for concrete, viable, and replicable models of violence intervention
(Kim, 2010,2011). In distinct contrast to conventional anti-violence services, its
approach prioritizes the engagement and coordination of social networksthat is,
friends, family, and community members tied to specific situations of violence.
During its pilot period, Creative Interventions offered a physical space for indivi-
dual or group meetings to take place and informational resources supporting
violence intervention strategies. Their personnel also served as facilitators, asking
questions and promoting dialogues that would clarify often complex dynamics of
violence, identify potential community allies, and map possible options. The actual
design and implementation of interventions were created and carried out by
victims or survivors and their selected group of supporters. In addition, the
organization initiated the StoryTelling & Organization Project (STOP), collecting
stories internationally from people who had carried out a community-based
intervention to intimate or community forms of violence that neither relied on
law enforcement nor service organizations (Herzing & Ontiveros, 2011). From
lessons gained from the pilot project, Creative Interventions developed a commu-
nity-based violence intervention model and set of tools consisting of conceptual
frameworks,stories,worksheets,andtipsaimedforcommunitymembersof
diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds, educational levels, political orientations,
and prior knowledge of violence intervention (Kim, 2011).
While these alternative transformative justice practices remain formative,
proponents have continued to work in close collaboration with each other.
Initiatives developed within specific organizational, regional, and community
settings differ widely; however, frequent informal communication regarding
points of progress and shared strategies to leverage political and material
opportunities has served to articulate common principles, develop interven-
tion practices, and expand accessibility across marginalized communities.
These models of transformative justice have served to shift the broad social
justice landscape toward values, language, and de-centralized practices reflec-
tive of developments largely led by feminists of color (Bierria et al., 2011).
Conclusion
As rates of criminalization have risen five-fold over the past four decades,
growing public alarm about the economic and social costs of criminalization
and the disproportionate impact on communities of color have begun to
dismantle conventional wisdom regarding the legitimacy of criminalization as
a primary response to gender violence. Likewise, recognition of the role that
neoliberal ideologies and policies have had on the criminalization of social
problems and prioritization of individualized service delivery models has led
228 M. E. KIM
to a re-envisioning of more humane, community-based, and liberatory
approaches (Bierria et al., 2011).
Restorative justice and transformative justice provide promising frameworks
to guide a new set of practices and policies. While activists outside of or at the
margins of the nonprofit sector have made strides in bringing restorative and
transformative frameworks and practices to their respective communities, a
wide gap remains between these informal, grassroots efforts and more main-
stream service provision (Liebenberg, Ungar, & Ikeda, 2013).
One sector of engaged social work researchers has taken leadership in
articulating the need for alternative restorative justice and transformative
justice options (Burford & Adams, 2004; Kim, 2010,2011;Levenson&
Ackerman, 2016;Mills,Barocas,&Ariel,2013; Pennell, 2006; Umbreit &
Armour, 2011; van Wormer, 2006). Working in close collaboration with
critical legal scholars and practitioners (Coker, 1999,2002,2006;Goodmark,
2011;Coker&Macquoid,2015), they have asserted the language of restorative
and transformative justice into academic and policy arenas. Many of these
proponents have also engaged in pioneering restorative and transformative
practices in the field (Burford, 1999;Kim,2010,2011;Millsetal.,2013; Pennell
& Burford, 2002).
While headway has been made in the restorative practice arenas of school
discipline, juvenile justice, and child welfare (Burford & Adams, 2004;
Pennell, 2006; Umbreit & Armour, 2011), practitioners and policymakers
remain cautious about the application of restorative and transformative
practices in situations of gender violence.
In recent years, segments of the mainstream anti-violence sector have begun a
period of reflection, investigating the consequences of its long-term investments
in criminalization and its negative impacts particularly on communities most
targeted by state violence. Conversations between restorative and transformative
justice proponents and mainstream anti-violence advocates have begun to build
points of alignment and to identify arenas for the adoption of restorative and
transformative justice practices to more broadly address domestic violence and
sexual assault across the United States. Recent national forums such as
INCITE!s fourth Color of Violence Conference organized in Chicago in 2015
and the Converge Conference held in Miami in 2014 have amplified the work of
feminists of color already engaging in restorative and transformative practices in
response to gender violence. They have also increased the visibility of harms that
current remedies to gender violence enact on communities of color, immigrants,
poor people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning
(LGBTQ) communities and people with disabilities.
Demands by contemporary social movements to challenge interpersonal and
law enforcement violence add urgency to the call for the creation of restorative
and transformative responses. Transgender and gender-nonconforming people,
marginalized not only within mainstream feminist social movements and
JOURNAL OF ETHNIC & CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN SOCIAL WORK 229
advocacy sectors but also among more radical feminist women of color, have
increasingly demanded recognition of their heightened vulnerabilities to inter-
personal violence, community violence, and specific targeting by state violence
(Mogul,Ritchie,&Whitlock,2011;Smith&Stanley,2011;Spade,2011). The
routine murders of transgender people of color across the United States serve as
morbid contemporary evidence of the vulnerability of transgender lives, and have
sparked campaigns and social media platforms such as
#TransgenderBlackLivesMatter, calling attention to gender violence against
African-Americansaswellasthediversity of those targeted by violence within
African-American communities (BlackLivesMatter, n.d.). Transgender people of
color, in particular, have taken leadership in innovative analysis of intersectional
forms of violence and demands for new social movement strategies that are not
complicit with the cultural violence of gender policingand the state violence of
arrest, prosecution, and incarceration (Smith & Stanley, 2011;Spade,2011).
All communities support and maintain gender violence, and all commu-
nities provide opportunities for resistance. However, the notions of healing,
reintegration, and repair hold particular promise to communities destroyed
by the intersection of intimate, community, and structural forms of violence
and, most recently, the impact of four decades of policies of mass incarcera-
tion. Support for collective, community responsibility can foster notions of
community self-determination, culturally meaningful practices, and the
building or rebuilding of community health. Approaches that support story-
telling and the creation of reparative narratives can be inclusive of the diverse
ways in which people learn and communicate. In the move from carceral
feminism to transformative justice, it has been the most marginalized and
vulnerable that have provided leadership pressing for reimagined anti-vio-
lence goals and liberatory practices grounded deep within embattled com-
munities. In the best traditions of social work and its commitment to social
justice, these communities serve as the sources of our evidence, inspiration,
and future trajectories.
Acknowledgments
I would like to acknowledge the creative and collective spirits who have preceded us, join with
us, and are yet to lead the journey toward liberation, with special heartfelt thanks to INCITE!
Women, Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color Against Violence.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
Funding
This work was supported by the Center for Research on Social Change, University of
California, Berkeley and the University of California Center for New Racial Studies.
230 M. E. KIM
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