In collaboration with the Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law, Prison Mindfulness Institute launched a Mindful Justice Initiative in 2014 and recently convened a Mindful Justice Conference at the Fetzer Institute’s Seasons Retreat Center with 24 influential leaders from the full spectrum of the U.S. criminal justice system, including current police and corrections officials, former judges, prosecutors and public defenders, victim advocates, program providers, law professors, restorative justice advocates and community activists. Meeting over four days, September 17 – 20, 2015, the group explored mindfulness-based approaches to transforming our criminal justice system and creating a system that is more humane, compassionate, effective and sustainable, one that is a force for healing and community resilience. The Seasons retreat and conference center located on a beautiful wooded property outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan, proved to be an ideal contemplative and nurturing environment for our Mindful Justice Conference. We also enjoyed lovingly prepared locally sourced meals.
Leading up to the meeting, members of our planning group and various colleagues presented a series of short seminars on mindfulness with judges, prosecutors, public defenders, community corrections, probation and parole officers, police, correctional officers and other first responders in California, Colorado, Kentucky and Oregon, documenting the results and writing in-depth research papers on the state of mindfulness based programming and training in different sectors of the criminal justice system, including a paper on the extensive history of mindfulness meditation based programming for prisoners over the past 40 years.
During the conference, we discussed and agreed on a set of proposed principles that would guide our work to co-create a mindful, compassionate, restorative and transformative justice system: (these are in draft form and will require further refinement)
Inner transformation is a critical element in addressing the fundamental deficiencies in the current criminal justice system.
All people, including those who have committed serious crimes and made mistakes, have inherent goodness and that can and should be cultivated.
Those who operate our institutions of criminal justice need to be guided (internally in their own hearts) and externally (laws, policies and practices) by principles of respect for human dignity and compassion for others.
Training and supervision of criminal justice professionals need to include reflective practices that support mindful practice, values and behaviors.
We recognize the disproportionate negative impact of the current criminal justice system on people of color and the poor.
Efforts to transform the criminal justice system need to involve engagement with the community at all levels.
We were committed to modeling what we hope to create by infusing the conference with mindfulness and reflective practices. We began each morning with 20 minutes of Chi Gong and 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation followed by a silent breakfast. We also invited various participants experienced with mindfulness practice to lead short mindfulness exercises at the beginning and end of each session throughout the day.
All of our sessions took place in a circle format in the beautiful vaulted meeting room at the Seasons conference center. Each evening we gathered for meditation and council, a listening/dialog circle creating a safe place for deep sharing. Our group bravely descended deep into the pain and suffering experienced by all participants in, and everyone impacted by, our current criminal justice system, discovering in the depths of this suffering and grieving a new found hope and the courage to envision a radically different approach to justice grounded in mindfulness, compassion, healing and transformation.
In our closing circle on the final morning, all the participants expressed gratitude and appreciation for this opportunity to practice and work together in this deep manner, hope and inspiration about the future and commitment to continue this co-creative effort to further grow a mindful justice movement in collaboration with all those seeking to create a more humane, just, compassionate and effective criminal justice system.