In his celebrated piece, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes positive peace as “the presence of justice” (3). Positive peace promotes justice by recognizing the human dignity of oppressed peoples and integrates them into the larger community; positive peace addresses systemic injustice as a barrier to that integration. Dismantling systemic injustice, the disadvantage and discrimination that exists within institutions, creates diverse communities where violence is unlikely to occur. When marginalized individuals are empowered to fight systemic injustice and create social change, they integrate their communities and advance the cause of positive peace.
Thomas Osborne, Julia Lathrop, Fred Cruz, and Dianne Rawlinson advocated against systematic injustice. Thomas Osborne re-established the order of prison rule because he was passionate about the injustice in the prisons. Julia Lathrop initiated the formation of the juvenile justice system to address delinquency as a result of family poverty and adverse community conditions. Fred Cruz legalized the basic human freedom of religion in prisons because he wanted to establish the constitutional rights of prisoners. Dianne Rawlinson fought for female advancement in the Alabama Correctional Department because the directors kept the correctional department male dominated. These radical peacemakers fought to establish positive peace and acknowledge human dignity in the U.S prison system, a sprawling series of structures ironically bereft of justice. By studying the stories of these individuals and their contributions to positive peace in the U.S prison system, new generations of peacemakers learn how to effect change and continue the work of protecting the rights of the vulnerable
One system that is institutionally unjust is the US prison system. Historically, it has targeted, criminalized, and abused those most vulnerable. Many prisons are corrupt in their leadership and administration, and humane living conditions are absent. There has been an absence of positive peace conversations in the public sphere, especially in regard to the justice system, but activists outside prison walls have worked to fix the justice system for decades. The biographies of the activists on this website are testimonies to past progress and a hope for the future. They show how positive peace arguments continuously evolve over time. Osborne re-established the order of prison rule, Lathrop created the juvenile justice system, Cruz legalized the basic human freedom of religion, and Rawlinson paved the way for female advancement in authority roles in the correctional system. In the twentieth century, peace activists helped to shift perceptions of the prison system and the injustices that occurred within it.