The Restorative Justice Paradigm Shift

 What is “justice”?

Take a few moments to think about that question. It is a word we use a lot. “Demand justice.” “Seek justice.” “Justice has been done.”

But what do we really mean when we use the word “justice”?

Often times, justice is understood as retributive harming: an eye for an eye. In the justice system, schools, workplaces, and internationally, we look to punish those who have violated rules or laws. Punishment involves responding to harm by causing reciprocal harm. This is often justified through the reasoning that it will deter future negative behavior. However, what researchers have found is that punishment, regardless of the context, often results in feelings of stigmatizing shame on the part of those punished. This experience of shame leads those who have been punished to reject their rejecter (those in authority) and the rules of their rejecter’s system. Through this dynamic of shame, punishment actually often leads to an increase in future harmful behavior and an adversarial relationship between those who have caused harm and the people and system responsible for “doing justice.”

Restorative justice offers a shift in how we understand justice and the pursuit of justice. Rather than retribution, justice is understood as healing and the pursuit of respectful social relationships. Central to the restorative approach to justice making is the questions, “How can we respond to harm without causing further harm?” Restorative justice seeks to put things right for all involved.

One of the best ways to understand this restorative shift in the concept and implementation of justice is too look at the questions asked. Whereas the punitive concept of justice focuses on violations of laws and appropriate punishment, restorative justice focuses on how the people involved have been affected and what can be done to make things right.

The Restorative Shift

Punitive Justice Questions Restorative Justice Questions
1. What rule/law was broken? 1. What happened?
2. Who did it? 2. Who was affected?
3. How should he/she be punished? 3. What can be done to repair the harm and make things right?

Bring to mind a situation in your life where you have experienced an injustice. First, try applying the punitive justice questions. What are the outcomes? How are the relationships impacted? Next, try applying the restorative justice questions to the same situation. How did this shift in the questions you asked and the concept of justice you pursued change the situation? As you go through your day, try the same exercise with stories in the news and problems you encounter with your family, friends and colleagues. You will be amazed by the difference this shift can make!

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Be Real, Love, Empathize: Insights for Facilitators from Carl Rogers

While restorative justice is not therapy, it often has therapeutic outcomes for participants. Particularly at the pre-conference stage, the facilitator’s role can feel akin to that of a therapist, helping to guide and support clients on their own journey towards healing, learning and growth.

This week, I have been reading some of Carl Rogers’ work in which he seeks to identify what elements or conditions are necessary in order for the client to experience positive therapeutic movement. Some of Rogers’ assertion deal with the necessary conditions of a therapist in order to facilitative positive change in a client. I find these necessary conditions highly applicable to the role of facilitators throughout the restorative justice process.

Specifically, Rogers identifies three conditions which when they occur in a therapist and are to some degree perceived by the client, will lead to progress and growth for the client. Each of these conditions is similarly an essential condition for restorative justice facilitators.

1. Congruence (“Be Real”)

“The therapist should be, within the confines of that relationship, a congruent, genuine, integrated person. It means that within the relationship he is freely and deeply himself, with his actual experience accurately represented by his awareness of himself. It is the opposite of presenting a façade, either knowingly or unknowingly. It is not necessary (nor is it possible) that the therapist be a paragon who exhibits this degree of integration, of wholeness, in every aspect of his life. It is sufficient that he is accurately himself in this hour of this relationship, that in this basic sense he is what he actually is, in this moment of time.” [1]

A facilitator, like a therapist, must “Be Real.” We all know from experience that there is nothing more off-putting than interacting with someone who you can sense is putting on a show, or is acting in a way that doesn’t align with their inner self. Maybe it is a false-sounding tone of voice or statements and gestures that feel more like a performance, those moments of un-realness can be unsettling and discourage the development of trust. Naturally, as a facilitator, there will be moment where something comes up and you have to keep calm on the outside while inside your wheels are turning to figure out what to do next, but I think there is still a way to manage that necessity while being real. A lot of this comes down to taking time before a pre-conference or conference to center yourself, to focus inward and notice your feeling and thoughts as they come up. Breathe deeply and connect with that inner most version of self where your wisdom and intuition reside. Then go into the process with that most genuine self in full expression rather than trying to act in a way you think you should or have seen others act. Come to the process with your real, true self shinning!

This also points to the importance of an ongoing practice of personal growth and discovery for all people, but especially for those in helping professions. As many wise teachers throughout the ages have explained, the cultivation of inner peace is an essential part of building peace in the world around us. For a beautiful account of the importance of this inner work in the peace builder’s journey, I recommend my friend Kathleen McGoey’s book. 

I appreciate that Rogers notes that it is impossible to be in this state of congruence at all times or in every aspect of our lives. It is a life-long journey to learn how to live more and more in authenticity. However, when you have the honor of facilitating a deeply transformative and healing process for clients, it is so important to take the time to bring yourself to that place. When facilitating conferences, I generally schedule myself at least 45 minutes prior to the beginning of the conference in which I have nothing else to do. This allows me time to arrive early, set up the space, and also take some time in meditation, focusing on my breath and checking in with my thoughts and energy, centering myself for the process ahead.

2. Unconditional Positive Regard (“Love”)

“When the therapist is experiencing a warm, positive and acceptant attitude toward what is in the client, this facilitates change. It involves the therapist’s genuine willingness for the client to be whatever feeling is going on in him at that moment, – fear, confusion, pain, pride, anger, hatred, love, courage, or awe. It means that the therapist cares for the client, in a non-possessive way. It means that he prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way.  By this I mean that he does not simply accept the client when he is behaving in certain ways, and disapprove of him when he behaves in other ways. It means an outgoing positive feeling without reservation, without evaluations.” [2]

At a restorative justice conference a few years ago, I saw Dr. Cornel West speak and at the center of his speech was this wonderful explanation: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” In order to help people, we must love them. People are more likely to change for the better when they sense that they are loved and accepted no matter what. The behavior may be seen as bad, but the person is still innately good and accepted.

This point relates closely to the dynamic of shame in the restorative justice process. As we know, offenders are often vilified and face what legal scholar John Braithwaite termed “stigmatizing shame.”[3] When an offender is degraded through shame, it poses a threat to his or her identity. The offender is likely to respond by rejecting the rejector (mainstream society) and the rules valued by the rejector (the law). A solution to this isolation is to turn to criminal subcultures, which provide a culture of pride in delinquency, as well as personal connections and resources. In this way, stigmatization of offenders perpetuates criminal behavior and ultimately makes communities less safe.

The only way to stop this destructive cycle of shame, is to learn to love the person who caused harm unconditionally, separating the person from the behavior. Learning to love those who have caused harm I feel is one of the greatest human lessons, and it is certainly not easy. It is a lesson put into practice by many of the most powerful leaders throughout human history including Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Jesus. It is a difficult practice to learn to meet clients and hear their stories while holding this unconditional positive regard, and to learn how to not try to use your approval or disapproval to shape their behavior, but it is so necessary for effective facilitation. It is also in alignment with a restorative worldview, which sees all people as innately good and unconditionally worthy of love.

3. Empathetic Understanding (“Empathize”)

“When the therapist is sensing the feelings and personal meanings which the client is experiencing in each moment, when he can perceive these from ‘inside,’ as they seem to the client, and when he can successfully communicate something of that understanding to his client, then this third condition is fulfilled.” [4]

The final condition that Rogers emphasizes is empathy. This also relates to the dynamics of shame within the restorative justice process. Another of my favorite thinkers, Dr. Brené Brown, has said, “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” When we are able to genuinely feel and express empathy to victim, offender, and communities of care, it helps to transform that shame into healing and a motivation to work towards making things right.

In my experience, the more you facilitate and the more you have the opportunity to practice putting yourself in the shoes of each participant in a restorative justice process and really feeling what they feel, the easier this becomes. It is something that must be practiced, and a skill that I hope that schools will emphasize to a greater degree in the future, because I see it as one of the most essential skills to being human.

There are, of course, other important skills, understandings, and abilities that contribute to good restorative justice facilitation. However, the three conditions outlined by Rogers seem like a powerful starting point. If we can learn to be real, to love, and to empathize with the people we work with, we are at a powerful starting point for facilitating positive transformation.

 

[1] Carl Rogers, “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 60, no. 6 (1992): 828.

[2] On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (London: Constable & Company Ltd. , 1961), 62.

[3] John Braithwaite, Crime, Shame and Reintegration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

[4] Rogers, 62.