What can a perspective grounded in arts and humanistic inquiry bring to the criminal justice system? How can insights from arts open up discursive frameworks and practices in ways that attend to both grievance and grief, redress and restoration, accountability and forgiveness?
Imagining Justice is a new program designed to transform the racialized criminal justice system through an approach that focuses on humanizing rather than pathologizing so-called “offenders.” By harnessing the capacity of the arts to activate ethical responsibility and engage the imagination, this program urges a rethinking and dismantling of existing punitive models of criminal justice. In addition to its curricular and research agendas, Imagining Justice provides a pre-arraignment diversion program that presumes that all the participants are innocent. A focus on the arts in diversion programs offers a creative and humane approach to divert people out of the criminal justice system entirely and in so doing mitigates the effects of prosecution, reduces the direct and collateral impacts of systemic racism, while also harnessing creative abilities and providing mentorship opportunities to those impacted by the criminal justice system. Imagining Justice will integrate knowledge production, community-based learning and humanistic inquiry with praxis. The program will bring together youth, scholars, artists, students, and community leaders to generate new knowledge, shift existing paradigms, and make concrete and conceptual interventions in the criminal justice system. An interdisciplinary, cross-sector research working group will examine the ethical, racial, sexual, and political issues raised by concerns about the criminal justice system including policing practices, mass incarceration, and immigration.