Boston University School of Law

January 21, 2011


From Unitive to Punitive: One alumna’s efforts to help reform the justice system

For Sylvia Clute (’73), advocating for restorative justice has been a life’s work. Armed with the belief that true justice should seek healing rather than punishment, Clute has dedicated her career to shifting public sentiment from a judicial culture of retribution to a culture of rehabilitation.

Restorative justice seeks to accommodate the needs of both victims and offenders, instead of accommodating any abstract need to administer punishment. The concept perceives crime as implicitly more than breaking the law, and stresses that it causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. According to Restorative Justice Online, “When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to [repair harm caused by crime], the results can be transformational.”

Taking an active role in the movement, Clute’s most recent book, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a Compassionate Revolution, challenges what she considers institutional dysfunction. She attributes the flaws in the system to attitudes of “duality,” a fallacy of human nature that focuses on perceived social differences rather than the unity of the human race. “The organizing principle of oneness lies at the root of all that is, but we lose our way being immersed in the disorganizing process of duality,” contends Clute.

clute book

In Beyond, Clute explores the roots of dualist thinking, and argues for applying a philosophy of oneness into not only the criminal justice system, but also all social relationships. Her principle of oneness maintains that all human life is spiritually interconnected, which reflects a universal passion for peace, equality and justice.

Since August, Clute has run a blog, entitled “Genuine Justice.” Each entry emphasizes some facet of the two conflicting models of justice, unitive and punitive.

Clute recently conducted a workshop at the 13th International Institute of Restorative Practices World Conference, held in Hull, U.K., the world’s first city to completely commit to restorative justice. Her seminar, entitled “Predicting Restorative Justice Success,” focused on a systematic theory for predicting the success of restorative justice programs, based on her convictions regarding oneness vs. duality.

Though her ultimate goal will remain difficult, Clute continues to be vigilant about pushing for an overhaul in the national justice policy to a system promoting unitive, transformative justice.

Reported by Joe Mielenhausen


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