The Power of Restorative Justice Education

Learning about restorative justice changed my life. I remember vividly the first time I read The Little Book Restorative Justice when it was assigned in a Nonviolence class at Colorado College. I sat up in my dorm room bed underlining almost every line and drawing big stars in the margins. I was so excited to have found an alternative approach to justice that could work to create peace in the wake of harm in so many different contexts. It was the first time I had really asked myself, “What is justice? And how is it best achieved?” From that moment and the discussions in class that followed, my trajectory was set. I knew that I needed to do this work. I knew that I needed to be part of the restorative justice movement.

Restorative justice course offerings at universities are expanding, but not as quickly as they need to be. With each person who learns about restorative justice, we gain the insight of their unique life experiences and the creative applications of the restorative philosophy they may imagine.

Last month, I taught a Master’s level course on Restorative Justice at Boise State University. The students were all intelligent, compassionate individuals with backgrounds in mediation and conflict resolution. The class was a true pleasure to teach. This was the first time any of the students had engaged with restorative justice. To many, it was an entirely new concept. They were as excited as I was when I first learned about this powerful work.

Their primary assignment was to complete a reflection, applying the “Restorative Lens” to a situation in their lives. This could be an issue they were facing at work or in university, with family or friends, in a volunteer role, or anywhere else. They could also pick an issue from the news or a local problem. The students were asked to view the issue though the philosophical framework of restorative practices, focusing on the three restorative questions: 1) What happened? 2) Who was affected? 3) What is needed to repair the harm and make things right?

If possible/appropriate, in addition to thinking about the issue through a restorative lens, the students could also apply restorative practices to addressing the issue. I invited them to consider facilitating a Restorative Justice Conference or a Circle with the individuals involved.

In grading these assignments, it was wonderful to see how the students were applying restorative practices in their contexts and seeing great results. One of the students who works at a school was able to prevent a student from being suspended by offering a restorative process. Another student held a circle with two family members about a painful family matter and reflected that it was the first time she had really listened to her parent. One student who works at a homeless shelter was able to use the circle structure with residents at the shelter. Two people talked about using a restorative approach to resolving harms in their workplaces. The university ombudsman reflected on a past suspension of a student that still haunts him and imagined “What if?” restorative justice had been an option. He shared that this one course will change how he does his job.

Restorative justice education is powerful. When we share restorative justice with a group of passionate, driven, capable students in a way that is inspiring, interactive, and empowering, we begin a positive ripple of impact. In restorative justice, we talk a lot about the ripple of harm from an offense. In restorative justice education, we see a more positive and transformational ripple. In each person who learns about restorative practices, a seed in planted, and they carry the knowledge with them into all of their interactions and decisions in their work, personal life, and wider community. They become messengers, sharing restorative justice with more people. The ripples of restorative justice education are expansive and powerful.

Article on Sustained Restorative Dialogue Published in Contemporary Justice Review

I am very excited to have an article Amy Giles-Mitson and I wrote on the Sustained Restorative Dialogue process published in the Contemporary Justice Review. The Sustained Restorative Dialogue was an effort to apply restorative processes to addressing the broader culture that gives rise to sexual harm. Organizing and facilitating the dialogue was one of the most meaningful experiences of my professional career to date. I am very excited to get to share the development, implementation, and outcomes of the pilot more widely. Hopefully it is a process that can continue to be refined and adapted to create space for other important conversations.

You can find the article here. If you do not have access and are interested in reading it, please contact me and I will send you a copy.

If you would like to see an overview of feedback from participants in the Sustained Restorative Dialogue, check out this report.

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What is Restorative Justice?

The exact definition of restorative justice has been a source of great debate and remains contentious within the restorative justice field. Broadly speaking, two general conceptions of restorative justice have been put forth: a process conception and a values conception.[1]

The process conception sees restorative justice as, “a process that brings together all stakeholders affected by some harm that has been done… These stakeholders meet in a circle to discuss how they have been affected by the harm and come to some agreement as to what should be done to right any wrongs suffered.”[2] Some scholars have maintained that this process can take place in a range of contexts, including schools, workplaces, and other areas of civil society, while others see restorative justice strictly and solely as an alternative process for addressing crime. The most notable of these scholars is Kathleen Daly, who has asserted that restorative justice is a “justice mechanism.”[3]

“Restorative justice is a contemporary justice mechanism to address crime, disputes, and bounded community conflict. The mechanism is a meeting (or several meetings) of affected individuals, facilitated by one or more impartial people. Meetings can take place at all phases of the criminal process – prearrest, diversion from court, presentence, and postsentence – as well as for offending or conflicts not reported to police. Specific practices will vary, depending on context, but are guided by rules and procedures that align with what is appropriate in the context of the crime, dispute or bounded conflict.”

Kathleen Daly, “What Is Restorative Justice? Fresh Answers to a Vexed Question,” Victims & Offenders

In her analysis, Daly seeks to strip away the values and philosophical claims to look only at the process, a process that can be empirically studied and compared to other justice mechanisms.[4]

Proponents of the values conception argue that restorative justice represents a greater paradigm shift than that, a new way of thinking about our response to crime and conflict, with common principles and values as the unifying factor between different restorative justice modalities. Following that line of reasoning, Zehr has offered the following definition of restorative justice:

“Restorative justice is an approach to achieving justice that involves, to the extent possible, those who have stake in a specific offense or harm to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”

Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice [5]

Rather than defining restorative justice as a specific process or procedure, this conception sees restorative justice as better defined by the approach to justice the process takes and the principles and values underlying this approach.

Gerry Johnstone and Daniel Van Ness refer to this as the “reparative conception” of restorative justice. In this view, restorative justice is defined by its assertion that the response to crime or conflict must seek to repair the harms resulting from the incident or bring about healing.[6] It is not solely the process or encounter, but rather this new way of understanding and approaching crime and conflict that is the defining feature of restorative justice.

Others take an even wider approach to the values definition of restorative justice, understanding it as a fundamentally different way of seeing the community as a whole, founded on common beliefs and a vision of a more ideal possible societal future. Johnstone and Van Ness refer to this definition of restorative justice as the “transformative conception.” In the transformative conception, humans are seen as fundamentally relational beings, connected to one another and to our environment.[7] It is the mission of the restorative movement to transform individuals and social structures to be in alignment with this more relational and connected worldview. Kay Pranis similarly identifies underlying beliefs or assumptions about the nature of the universe and its operation that she argues are at the base of restorative justice work. These beliefs include that there is a core human need to be in good relationships, that all humans are connected and interdependent, that wisdom resides in each person, and that justice is healing.[8] Johnstone asserts that, grounded in these beliefs, restorative justice operates as a wider social movement. This social movement seeks not only to transform the community’s response to crime, but also other aspects of contemporary society.[9]

In my view, both the process and the values conceptions of restorative justice are important and mutually reinforcing. Braithwaite and Strang note, “It is best to see restorative justice as involving a commitment to both restorative processes and restorative values.”[10] Restorative justice cannot be understood solely as a process or a “justice mechanism;” the greater social aspirations and distinct value system the movement has birthed plainly indicate the need for a more expansive understanding. Nor can the restorative social movement be adequately understood when separated from the processes by which the values are experienced.

Excerpt from Lindsey Pointer, Justice Performed: The Normative, Transformative, and Proleptic Dimensions of the Restorative Justice Ritual, PhD diss., Victoria University of Wellington, 2019. 

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[1] John Braithwaite and Heather Strang, “Introduction: Restorative Justice and Civil Society,” in Restorative Justice and Civil Society, ed. John Braithwaite and Heather Strang (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kathleen Daly, “What Is Restorative Justice? Fresh Answers to a Vexed Question,” Victims & Offenders  (2015): 13.

[4] Ibid., 14-15.

[5] Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Revised and Updated (New York: Good Books, 2015), 48.

[6] Gerry Johnstone and Daniel Van Ness, “The Meaning of Restorative Justice,” in Handbook of Restorative Justice, ed. Gerry Johnstone and Daniel Van Ness (Portland: Willan Publishing, 2007), 17.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Kay Pranis, “Restorative Values,” ibid., 65-66.

[9] Gerry Johnstone, “The Agendas of the Restorative Justice Movement,” in Restorative Justice: From Theory to Practice (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Volume 11), ed. Holly Ventura Miller (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2008) 59.

[10] Braithwaite and Strang, “Introduction: Restorative Justice and Civil Society,” 2.

Coming Soon: The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools

I remember reading The Little Book of Restorative Justice for the first time. I fell instantly in love with the simple and powerful philosophy of restorative practices and could hardly sleep that night because I was so excited. I just kept thinking, “This is an idea that could change the world in so many beautiful ways!” I knew right away that I needed to be part of the restorative movement.

I am so grateful to now get to be part of the Little Book series. Perhaps the one thing I love more than facilitating restorative practices is sharing the work with others. This book is full of ways to teach restorative justice that cultivate respect, equal voice, and fun!

The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools will be released in March 2020.

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United Nations Course on Restorative Justice

My friend and colleague, Andrea Păroşanu, has recently finished a module on Restorative Justice for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It is part of a larger series on criminal justice by the E4J initiative. It is a great resource for those looking to learn more about RJ or for materials to help them teach others. I was honored to have some of my case studies included in the course materials. Great work, Andrea!

Here is the description of the project provided by the UNODC.

Education plays a key role in preventing crime and promoting a culture of lawfulness that supports human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. The E4J initiative is developing a series of modules on crime prevention and criminal justice, which lecturers can use as a basis for teaching in universities and academic institutions all around the world. Addressing a broad range of criminal justice topics, the series will equip students with knowledge about the fundamental role that effective, fair, humane and accountable crime prevention and criminal justice institutions play in support of the rule of law and the promotion of peace. To increase their effectiveness, the modules will connect theory to practice, encourage critical thinking, and use innovative interactive teaching approaches such as experiential learning and group-based work. The modules will be multi-disciplinary and can be integrated in existing courses on criminology, law, political science, international relations, sociology, and many other disciplines. The broad range of examples used to elucidate the United Nations standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice means that the modules are relevant globally. The modules can also be adapted by lecturers to address specific local and cultural contexts, and the E4J Teaching Guide on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice will provide lecturers with additional guidance on teaching the modules across multidisciplinary settings.

Teaching restorative practices through games: an experiential and relational restorative pedagogy

An article I wrote with Kathleen McGoey on using games to teach restorative practices has been published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Restorative Justice. Finding creative ways to teach restorative practices in a way that is in alignment with restorative values is a passion of mine, so it is a pleasure to have begun writing and publishing on this topic. There is more to come!

If you would like to read the full article and do not have access to the journal, please reach out!

Teaching restorative practices through games: an experiential and relational restorative pedagogy

Abstract

This article argues for the use of games as an effective and dynamic way to teach restorative practices. Grounded in an understanding of restorative pedagogy, a paradigm of teaching in alignment with restorative values and principles, as well as experiential learning strategies, this article introduces games as a way for students to experience and more deeply understand restorative practices while building relationships and skills. Personal accounts of the authors about the impact of using games to teach restorative practices in their own communities are also included.

The full article can be found here: https://www.elevenjournals.com/tijdschrift/IJRJ/2019/1/IJRJ_2589-0891_2019_002_001_003

Rotary Global Grant Blog March 2019

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After submitting my dissertation at the end of February, March kicked off with a trip to Melbourne to visit one of my closest childhood friends. It was wonderful to relax and laugh with a good friend after the final push to complete my thesis. And Melbourne is such a great city!

Since returning to Wellington, I have been busy catching up on the work that got put to the side during the final weeks/months of writing my thesis including finalizing two forthcoming articles, one on using games to teach restorative practices and one on the sustained restorative dialogue pilot. I will post more information as soon as they are available!

There were two training highlights this month! We offered a training on restorative tools for transforming workplace culture to attorneys at Crown Law. It was a great group and they were very engaged with both the proactive and reactive applications. It is wonderful to see the positive impact these tools can have in workplaces!

The second training highlight was offering a workshop on how to teach restorative practices in a way that is in alignment with the restorative philosophy to a group of fellow restorative practitioners. I have been dreaming about this training for a while and designed all new activities to help encourage a discussion about what makes a learning experience restorative and to give them the experience of designing, facilitating and debriefing their own activities for teaching restorative practices. We were amazed by what they came up with! I also got to try out a brand new activity I designed called “Build the Nest,” which engages with the Nested Theory of Conflict in a creative way in order to better understand the structural roots of crime. It was two evenings of amazing conversations and creativity and something I hope to get to do again soon!

Rotary Global Grant Blog February 2019

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The biggest and most exciting news this month is I submitted my dissertation!! It feels wonderful and exciting to have completed such a significant piece of work on a topic that is so important to me. This journey has been challenging at points, but ultimately so rewarding. I am so grateful for how my understanding of restorative justice has deepened through the process and for all the support I have received along the way! Next, my thesis will be sent out to three examiners, one at VUW, one in Australia, and one in the United States. In approximately four months, I will have my oral defense, likely followed by required revisions. There are still a few big steps in the process, but it is nice to be able to take a deep breath and relax a bit before the defense!  

February started off with a week of training with the VUW Residential Advisers. As always, they were a wonderful and inspiring group of young people, who picked up very quickly on restorative principles and practices. I have high-hopes for the year ahead! If you would like to read more about restorative practices in the residential halls at VUW, check out my article in Conflict Resolution Quarterly.

This month, I also learned that the University of Western Australia is going to adapt the Sustained Restorative Dialogue process developed at VUW to hold a restorative circle dialogue with a group of law students on their experience of competitiveness and stress in the law school learning environment. It is very exciting to see this process spreading, as I think it is a promising new development in the field of proactive restorative practices aimed at broader culture change in communities.

I contributed several pieces to the most recent NACRJ Restorative Well, which you can view here.

This month’s Rotary Peacebuilder Newsletter is on the topic of Risk Taking. My contribution is titled “Taking the Risk to be Vulnerable: What We Know from Restorative Justice Research and Practice” and can be found here.

Rotary Global Grant Blog January 2019

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2019 is off to a great start!

My dissertation is due at the end of February, so I have been working hard writing and revising. It is really exciting to see the final version coming together! I feel so grateful looking back at the last three years of work to have had the time and support to dive so deeply into a topic that I care so much about!

We started the new school year at Victoria University by training another group of residential halls staff as restorative justice facilitators. It was a great couple days and a wonderful group of people! It is so exciting to see restorative practices implementation continuing to grow in the university. We will also be training all of the Residential Advisers in circles and restorative conversations like we did last year over the coming weeks. I can’t wait! If you would like to learn more about restorative practices in the Residential Halls at Victoria University, check out a recent article I published Restorative practices in residence halls at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

I was very excited this month to have the art piece I commissioned illustrating restorative justice shared by Brunilda Pali, whose article and presentation at the EFRJ Conference originally inspired me to try to create an image. She has also kindly shared my blog on her site www.restorotopias.com. She has some great content – I highly recommend checking it out!

The January 2019 Rotary Peacebuilder Newsletter is available on the district website and also on the Peacebuilder Blog.