A common narrative about modern restorative justice is that it is a revival of historic and indigenous justice practices that have been practiced around the world. Critics of this narrative call it a myth, arguing that the claim is overbroad and unsupported by existing evidence. Embedded in this conversation are questions about how to respect the contributions of indigenous traditions and avoid whitewashing. Such an overwhelmingly broad claim tends to lead to romanticization and whitewashing of indigenous traditions, serving the needs of largely white, Western advocates in yet another colonial endeavor. But ignoring the indigenous contribution to restorative justice altogether is whitewashing by a different route.
This Article offers three main contributions. First, it reveals the current lack of empirical grounding for the common narrative. This descriptive insight motivates the second contribution: the creation of a methodology for better ascertaining the degree to which any historic, indigenous practice did constitute restorative justice. Applying this methodology to investigate the traditional practices of the Igbo and Acholi in sub-Saharan Africa, the Article begins the work of documenting the relationship between restorative justice and historic practices, work that leads to the third and last contribution. Better conceptualizing past practices not only advances our understanding of such practices but also contributes to our understanding of modern restorative justice. Here, the case studies of the Igbo and Acholi reveal a need for restorative justice scholars to engage in greater conceptual and empirical analysis of the role of community in restorative justice practices.
Aparna Polavarapu, Myth-Busting Restorative Justice: Uncovering the Past and Finding Lessons in Community, 13 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 949 (2023).