Q&A: Training Restorative Justice Facilitators to Understand Structural Inequities

Q: How can I help the facilitators I train in my program to understand the structural dimensions of crime? I worry that they are too focused on the interpersonal dimensions of crime and are ignoring the larger harms and roots of conflict in race-, class-, and gender-based systemic inequities.

A: This is a common issue in restorative justice programs around the world and one that is important to work hard to address. Fania DavisAnita Wadhwa, and David Dyck (among others) offer some helpful resources.

This shortcoming in facilitators’ understanding is due in part to the fact that practitioners are generally not trained to think about restorative justice work within a systemic, structural frame of reference, and therefore, by default, tend to focus solely on personal responsibility without understanding the structural roots of the conflict or wrongdoing.

Practitioners need to be trained not only in interpersonal communication skills, but also the ability to recognize and address the way in which crimes and conflict reflect larger systemic problems.

One of Dyck’s recommendations is to teach facilitators theoretical models that will help them to grasp this larger issue. For example, Maire Dugan’s Nested Theory of Conflict provides a framework for understanding interrelated types of conflict in a community. Here is a game from www.RestorativeTeachingTools.com to help your facilitators understand this model.


June Restorative Teaching Tool – An Activity Based on DiAngelo’s book White Fragility

This month’s Restorative Teaching Tool is inspired by Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility.
In recent weeks, Kathleen and I, like many people, have recommitted ourselves to continued education, deep personal reflection, and action as we intentionally work to be antiracist. It is often uncomfortable and always vulnerable, but we know this is what we need to be prioritizing.

One of the resources we have found particularly helpful is White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo. This book invites us to reframe our view of racism. Rather than seeing it as a moral failing that only “bad people” have, we see racism as inevitable (but possible to change) because of the culture in which we were socialized. This important reframe has helped us to feel gratitude (rather than shame and defensiveness) when we identify (or others identify) manifestations of our own racism so that we can work to change.

DiAngelo’s important reframe is at the heart of this month’s Restorative Teaching Tool. This activity will invite you and your learners to reflect deeply on your own defensive reactions to awareness of your racism and will provide a process to reframe how you are understanding and responding to that experience.

Kathleen and I are both white and have lived and worked in primarily white communities, so it felt important to design an activity that would provide an opportunity for groups of white people to reflect on their own racism and support each other in change. This is in the tradition of white affinity groups, spaces for white people to discuss race and white privilege and to do the work to challenge their racism together.

Please find a pdf with activity instructions here.

If you would like to sign up to receive future Restorative Teaching Tool of the Month emails, you can do so here.

United Nations Roundtable on Restorative Pedagogy

Last month, I was honored to be invited to be part of a roundtable on Restorative Pedagogy hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Here is a description of the roundtables from the UNODC press release.

“From criminology, psychology and political studies degrees, to university courses for the social workers, lawyers and schoolteachers of the future, restorative justice and restorative practice increasingly appear on higher education curricula. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Education for Justice (E4J) initiative recognises the importance of restorative justice, and has developed a module to promote and strengthen its teaching in higher education institutions globally.

Further recent developments in restorative justice teaching in higher education include the publication of The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools (Pointer, et al., 2020) and a corresponding website, and efforts by academics in Ireland and Australia to encourage their colleagues from around the world and across different disciplines to share restorative justice syllabi.

While many collaborations and discussions focus on restorative justice research, few seek to bring the field together around its teaching in universities. In light of this, Dr. Wendy O’Brien (UNODC, E4J) and Dr. Ian Marder (Maynooth University Department of Law) co-organised a series of three online roundtables to enable those who teach restorative justice and restorative practice in higher education to learn from each other’s experiences of doing so.

These roundtables took place in mid-May 2020, involving around 70 academics from 30 countries. Each session began with a welcome from Dr. O’Brien who introduced participants to the tertiary component of E4J and the University Module Series on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Next, Jee Aei (Jamie) Lee from the UNODC Justice Section shared information about the publication of the revised UNODC Handbook on Restorative Justice Programmes. The roundtables were then dedicated to discussions on different themes related to teaching restorative justice in universities. These discussions were chaired by Dr. Marder who used restorative practices to give everyone present an opportunity to speak.”



As School Contracts with Police are Called into Question, Consider Restorative Justice

We are in a time of immense change in our country and one thing that is being reconsidered is the role of police and punitive sanctions more broadly in schools. Research has shown that the presence of police and punitive sanctions in schools often drives students —particularly minority and poor students—out of school, resulting in a “school-to-prison” pipeline (Losen 2015).

Restorative justice is a non-punitive and relationship-based approach to responding to misbehavior and harm that encourages accountability and the reparation of relationships. It also works proactively to generate a positive school climate where students feel safe, respected, and heard. This translates into a myriad of positive outcomes for students and teachers alike.

A 2020 study summarizing the most recent two decades of quantitative studies regarding the effectiveness of restorative justice in schools found that restorative justice implementation has the following impacts (Darling-Hammond et al 2020).

  • A decrease in harmful behaviors (i.e. violence).
  • A decrease in exclusionary discipline (i.e. suspensions and expulsions). Exclusionary discipline is associated with a large range of negative outcomes for students including dropping out of school and being incarcerated, so a decrease in exclusionary discipline results in other improved outcomes for students.
  • A decrease in suspensions of Black, Latinx, low-income, and special needs students.
  • A lower rate of recidivism.
  • A reduction in the racial discipline gap.
  • Increased attendance.
  • Increased graduation rates.
  • Improved school climate.
  • Increased social-emotional growth and position development of students.
  • Higher levels of school connectedness and positive peer relations.
  • Increase in students’ feelings of safety.

I strongly urge school districts around the country to consider implementing a comprehensive restorative justice program to ensure school safety and improve students’ experiences of school climate and feelings of belonging.


Darling-Hammond, S., Fronius, T. A., Sutherland, H., Guckenburg, S., Petrosino, A., & Hurley, N. (2020). “Effectiveness of Restorative Justice in US K-12 Schools: A Review of Quantitative Research.” Contemporary School Psychology.

Losen, D. (Ed.). (2015). Closing the school discipline gap: equitable remedies for excessive exclusion. Teachers College Press.

Restorotopias – A Conversation with Lindsey Pointer

Brunilda Pali recently posted an interview with me on her site, Restorotopias. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation! Bruna is a role model for me in the restorative practices field, so I was thrilled when she mentioned the idea of an interview.

For any RJ practitioners that may be reading, we touch on a few tricky questions in this conversation that are important to the further growth and implementation of restorative practices. I would love to hear your thoughts!

A conversation with Lindsey Pointer


Restorative Circles: A Powerful Tool for Community Healing

Today, The Blue Review at Boise State University published the piece they invited me to write on Restorative Circles. 
I wrote this article back before the pandemic. More recently, I often wonder how restorative circles can be used to help us heal from the collective trauma of COVID-19.
And as I read the tragic news this week and feel the sadness of George Floyd’s death, I hope and pray that restorative processes might have something to offer to finally begin to heal the harms of pervasive racism and structural inequities in the United States and beyond. Nothing could be more important. Innovative restorative practitioners are already having this conversation and beginning this work. Fania Davis’ The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice is a great place to start if you want to learn more.

Restorative Circles: A Powerful Tool for Community Healing


Restorative Practices and the Elevation of Women’s Voices

If there is one thing that I think would make a significant positive difference in the trajectory of life on this planet, it is the elevation of marginalized voices including racial minorities, the economically disenfranchised, and women.

It is important that these voices are heard not only for the principle of equal voice and the respect it communicates, but also because these voices offer much needed perspectives and priorities capable of shifting policies and resource allocation for the betterment of humankind.

Women, for example, tend to identify different things as problems and are more likely to think about the needs of families, children, and how we can care for those who have least in our society.[1] This critical perspective is often lost because women’s voices are not heard.

A recent book titled The Silent Sex by Christopher Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg shares the results of a study looking at how different group compositions and decision-making protocols impacted how often women’s voices are heard. For the study, the researchers established groups of five people with varying compositions of men and women. The groups were asked to split their collective earnings and to determine how economic redistribution should work in society at large.

Half of the groups were told to decide by majority rule (representing the most common protocol decision-making bodies use). In these groups, the researchers observed the behaviors that are all too familiar to women who have been part of group conversations in the workplace and elsewhere. There was dramatically unequal talking time between men and women. It took not just a female majority, but a supermajority (meaning four out of five) for women to have proportionate talking time to men. Outnumbered women in the study spoke at best, three-quarters of the amount of time a man spoke and on average, women spoke two-thirds as much as a man.

The women in these groups were also routinely interrupted, and most of these interruptions were negative, meaning the interjections were discouraging, things like “I don’t think so” or “That’s not right.” In the groups that had one woman alone with four men, 70 percent of the interruptions she received were negative. When there were four women in the room and only one man, men become less aggressive and only 20 percent of the interruptions were negative.

Shifting from Majority Rule to Unanimity Rule

What is interesting about this study is what happened to the other half of the groups. These groups were told to make their decision by unanimity rule.

The results were astounding.

  • Female talking time increased for women in the minority. A lone woman participated nearly as much as a man.
  • Unanimity rule significantly increased positive interruptions—interjections that affirm and validate, like “Yeah” and “I agree.” Such positive interruptions tripled for women in the minority.
  • The influence gap narrowed for a lone woman. She had almost as much of a shot as a man at being voted the most influential member by her group.

As Karpowitz explains, “Unanimity rule sends the message that everybody’s voice matters.” This empowers women’s voices and allows us all to benefit from the perspectives, experiences, and knowledge they bring to the group.

This finding is particularly interesting from the perspective of restorative practices. In restorative practices, all agreement outcomes are decided unanimously. The group discusses the needs of the individuals involved, what would repair the harm caused, and employs creativity in addressing those needs, until they reach a specific list of actions that all participants agree would work to make things right. In restorative processes, we see how this reliance on unanimity rule ensures equal voice and respectful communication.

The demonstrated successes of the unanimity rule approach in restorative practices and the specific structures that make this protocol successful (such as the circle) may have applicability in other areas of social life. What would a restorative approach to politics look like? Could more emphasis on unanimity rule mean less hostile partisan divides, more compromise, more respect, more compassionate policies, and more women in leadership?

[1] Rogers, Brittany. “When Women Speak.” BYU Magazine, 2020.

Online Training: Restorative Practices for University Residence Halls

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Now Available Online!

This course will prepare you to implement restorative practices in your university residence hall.Universities around the world are using restorative practices to foster meaningful relationships, encourage accountability, improve communication, and cultivate feelings of connection and belonging that allow students to thrive.

Learning Outcomes: 

  • Understand and describe the Restorative Philosophy and how it differs from punitive approaches.
  • Facilitate a Connection Circle to build relationships in your community. The circle supports the development of interpersonal skills, promotes cultural awareness, and contributes to a safe and healthy living and learning environment.
  • Facilitate a Circle for Establishing Group Norms, providing students with the opportunity to co-create their hall environment and encouraging ownership of community guidelines.
  • Facilitate a Circle to Respond to a Community Conflict or Trauma, providing a space for healing and resolution following a difficult community experience.
  • Hold a Restorative Conversation to address a conflict or behavior issue. Participants will learn how to ask effective questions, maintain a focus on impacts and repair, and resolve conflict and misbehavior in a way that honors and strengthens relationships.

Time Commitment: Approximately 8-10 hours of case studies, expert interviews, and experiential learning activities. Work through the course at your own pace and receive regular feedback from the instructor.

Cost: $275 (group discounts available)