Gordon Bazemore, a pioneer of restorative justice, a reconciliation-based system of addressing criminal behavior, has died.
Bazemore got involved in restorative justice work in the early 1990s when few people had even heard the term, according to a remembrance written by friend and colleague Mara Schiff in collaboration with Bazemore’s wife, Cynthia Wright-Bazemore after his death Sunday at the age of 68. Schiff is the vice president of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, a nonprofit that supports educators, practitioners and others interested in restorative and community justice.
In 1997, he, Mark Umbreit and Dennis Maloney founded the Balanced and Restorative Justice Project with a grant from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This was one of the first efforts to roll out the practice of restorative justice, which seeks to have offenders and victims sit down together and get to know and understand each other. The goal is recompense, reconciliation, healing and forgiveness, a starkly different, humane approach to the traditional goal of institutional punishment and, secondarily, rehabilitation. At the time, harsh sentencing and the “war on drugs” were filling up the nation’s jails and prisons amid a falling crime rate.
The project aimed to divert juveniles accused of crimes from incarceration, and worked with juvenile justice systems in multiple states to help youth who had committed crimes become aware of how their actions affected victims, and hold them to account in a way that left the accused and the victim feeling reconnected with society.
Some critics dismiss the social justice movement as a social engineering fantasy that simply lets criminals off the hook, although research shows that youth who go through restorative justice programs tend to stay out of trouble more than those who experience harsh punishment while incarcerated.
“It is indeed because of the early BARJ work that many of these states continue to incorporate restorative values, principles and practices into their current work. That we now have prosecutors in places like Colorado, California, Philadelphia and elsewhere who know of and promote restorative justice can be tracked back to early BARJ work,” Schiff wrote.
Bazemore, who taught at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, where he was the director for six years, co-authored or co-edited three influential books and numerous academic articles on restorative justice.
On a personal note, Schiff and Wright-Bazemore said Bazemore would be most remembered as a devoted family man and selfless friend.
“If you knew him, you knew that there was not a mean or critical bone in his body — he was one of the kindest and most generous men I have ever known. There was no one in whom Gordon could not see the best, with whom he would not want to collaborate and who he did not try to support in any way he could.”