Truth and Reparation for the U.S. Imprisonment and Policing Regime: A Transitional Justice Perspective

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 19 (2):209–231 (2022)
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In the literature on transitional justice, there is disagreement about whether countries like the United States can be characterized as transitional societies. Though it is widely recognized that transitional justice mechanisms such as truth commissions and reparations can be used by Global North nations to address racial injustice, some consider societies to be transitional only when they are undergoing a formal democratic regime change. We conceptualize the political situation of low-income Black communities under the U.S. imprisonment and policing regime in terms of three criteria for identifying transitional contexts: normalized collective and political wrongdoing, pervasive structural inequality, and the failure of the rule of law. That these criteria are met, however, does not necessarily mean that a transition is taking place. Drawing on the American political development and abolition democracy literatures, we discuss what it would mean for the United States to transition out of its present imprisonment and policing regime. A transitional justice perspective shows the importance of not only pushing for truth and reparation, but for an actual transition.

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Jennifer Page
University of Zürich


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