If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How Can We Illustrate Restorative Justice?

The challenge of describing restorative justice and how the philosophy and approach differs from the conventional justice system is one that practitioners and scholars have grappled with since the beginning of the movement. The retributive approach to justice is so culturally ingrained that it can be difficult to fully communicate the restorative paradigm and the impact of this different way of understanding and responding to wrongdoing.

Images play a powerful role in communicating complex ideas. As the well-known idiom in the title suggests, the best images are capable of conveying meaning more effectively than a lengthy description.

So how can we use the power of images to help communicate the concept of restorative justice?

A recent article by Brunilda Pali highlights the lack of images of restorative justice available to help communicate its meaning. The most common image used is of a group of people seated in a circle, which does not communicate significant conceptual depth to someone new to restorative justice. She notes that “art can mediate, enhance, and make tangible new and alternative understandings of the notion and practice of justice” and laments the fact that restorative justice scholars have been latecomers to grasping this power of images.[1]

When we consider the complex concept of justice, the most common image encountered is that of Lady Justice. Lady Justice is generally depicted wearing a blindfold and carrying scales and a sword. The blindfold is meant to represent impartiality, the scales signify fairness and the weighing of evidence, and the sword symbolizes the authority to punish.Lady justice standard image

Restorative justice challenges the concept of justice communicated by the Lady Justice image in almost all of its elements. As Pali notes, “from a restorative justice perspective, the sword, the scales, and the blindfold mainly represent the limitations of formal justice, where justice is seen as harsh, rigid, and unable to see the injuries imposed in her name.”[2]

Pali’s article inspired me to think about how I would visually portray the restorative concept of justice. Because of the strong association of the word “justice” with the image of Lady Justice, I felt that an effective restorative justice image would need to be in conversation with the Lady Justice image. How could the Lady Justice image be modified to communicate the ways in which the restorative concept of justice differs from the punitive justice she personifies?

I began to wonder about a Lady of Restorative Justice, who has taken off her blindfold in order to see the complex humanity and individual needs of each person involved in the process. She would have hung up her sword and scales, and taken her place as an equal member of the circle, leaning in, intently and compassionately listening to the stories of the people present and what each person needed to repair the harms and make things right.

I reached out to a local Wellington artist, Phil Dickson, who agreed to illustrate the idea. This is the image he created.

Lady Justice circle image

What concept of justice do you think this image communicates? How would you illustrate restorative justice?

 

[1] Brunilda Pali, “Images of Alternative Justice: The Alternative of Restorative Justice,” Crime, Media, and Popular Culture  (2017): 11.

[2] Ibid., 5.

How Can Circles Benefit Spiritual Communities?

About a month ago, a local church approached our team about how they could implement restorative practices in their community. They are a very diverse church with many English language learners who have recently moved to New Zealand from other countries. Especially because of these language and cultural barriers, it can be difficult for all 50+ members of the church to feel connected. Like any community, there is also sometimes conflict, and they were looking for tools to help them work through the issues that occasionally come up.

As a church committed to following the lived example of Jesus, they were also interested in the work of reconciliation and peacemaking, and wanted to be involved in that sacred work within their community.

They decided to do a four-week series on the theme of becoming a restorative church, and I was asked to come on week three to facilitate a circle experience. The idea was that we would give the community an experience of relationship-building circles, to strengthen their connections to each other and each member’s sense of belonging. Then, when issues come up in the future, there would already be familiarity and comfort with the circle process as a structure for holding those more difficult conversations.

I arrived an hour early to sit down with a group of five volunteer facilitators from the community who had been asked to take on the role because they were perceived as good listeners and natural, gentle leaders. I started by facilitating a circle with them, so that they could know what if feels like, and then we debriefed the experience and talked through the essential elements of facilitating and any questions they had. They had all been asked ahead of time to bring treasured objects to use as their talking pieces.

We also had four volunteer translators from the community, who were given the circle questions and an overview of the circle process ahead of time.

After the standard service, I gave a quick introduction to circles and then helped to divide the congregation into five circle groups, with a translator in each group that needed one. The facilitators then led their circles through the three rounds of questions (which you can see in the circle guide below).

I kept an eye on all five circles and then brought everyone back together at the end to talk about the experience. The community shared beautiful reflections about how it felt like a sacred space was created in the circle, like God was truly present. One newer member of the church said this was the first time he had really felt something in his heart since coming. The groups reflected on laughing and crying together and the beauty of being able to hear each other’s languages and connect with each other with the help of the translators.

Taking the time to connect with each other in a meaningful way is so life giving in a community. For me, circles are a place where the divine feels so tangible. If you are part of a spiritual community, offer to facilitate a circle process. You will be amazed by the outcome!

 

Circle Guide

  • Welcome
  • Purpose of the Connection Circle (to build connection and community, to get to know each other on a deeper level, to practice the circle structure)
  • Establish Group Rules
    • Please listen and speak with respect
    • Respect everyone’s privacy by not sharing what is said in the circle
    • Speak only when you have the talking piece and share time fairly
    • You may pass and we will come back to you
    • Practice patience
  • Introduce Talking Piece
    • Significance of object used
    • How it relates to the question
  • Question Round(s) (you may have time for 1, 2, or 3 rounds of questions)
    • Round 1: Please share your name and a story connected to your name (this could be what your name means, how your name was chosen, what you think of your name, or any other story related to your name).
    • Round 2: What do you feel grateful for this week?
    • Round 3: What experience in your life have you learned the most from? What did you learn?
  • Close the Circle
    • Thank everyone for participating
    • Reflection and tie it all together ending

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Rotary Global Grant Blog August 2018

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For the first part of August, I was home in Colorado visiting my family. It was great to have a chance to soak up some Colorado summer and to visit my loved ones. While I was home, I also got the chance to visit the Rotary Clubs of Fort Collins and Loveland, to thank them in person for their support of my research. It was wonderful to get to reconnect with Rotarians who I have been in so much email contact with and to meet a few new friends! I continue to be amazed by and endlessly grateful to the Rotary community for the work they do.

While in Colorado, I also delivered an Introduction to Restorative Practices in Schools training for Mountain Sage Community School in Fort Collins. I have deep ties to the Mountain Sage community, having been a Waldorf student myself growing up, and I also have a love and admiration for the educational philosophy at the root of their school. It was a privilege to get to share my work in restorative practices and some practical skills for building healthy communities and resolving conflict with the Mountain Sage staff.

Towards the end of August, my colleague Haley and I delivered a two-day Restorative Justice Facilitator Training for Victoria University of Wellington staff. Through these trainings, we are growing the community understanding of what it means to be a Restorative University and are growing our team of facilitators who can take cases. I always love the opportunity to spend two days taking a deep dive into restorative philosophy and skills with a group of learners! We also had a chance to try out a couple new games I had designed for teaching facilitation skills, which was  a lot of fun!

You can read the most recent edition of the Peacebuilder Newsletter on the topic of Paradigm Shifts: An Argument for Studying Peace here. My contribution describes how restorative practices can teach students how to handle difficult conversations.

During July, I got to pilot a project I have been trying to get off the ground in the university for over a year. The “Sustained Restorative Dialogue” method is a proactive restorative process to hold difficult conversation about important community issues. The inaugural dialogue explored the issue of sexual harm and harassment on campus. It was a “sustained” dialogue in that it was run over four sessions with the same participants. It was a “restorative” dialogue in that the conversation moved in sequential sessions through the main steps of a restorative analysis – What is happening? What are the impacts? What is needed to make things right? The aim of the dialogue was to explore the broader climate that gives rise to sexual harm in the campus setting and beyond and to explore possible solutions.

This month, I received feedback from the Sustained Restorative Dialogue participants and compiled a report on the project. I am happy to say that the pilot was a great success, and the university is excited to move forward with wider implementation. The report below includes background information, the circle outlines for each session, feedback from participants, recruitment processes, and lessons learned.

Sustained Restorative Dialogue Report

Beyond the Carrot and the Stick

What is the best way to promote good, pro-social behavior? Is it rewarding good behavior or punishing bad behavior? The carrot or the stick?

This question has been asked across a wide range of contexts from the criminal justice system to schools to workplaces to international relations. Those in authority in each context have tried one or the other, or most often, a combination of both, in an attempt to persuade the members of their community to behave well.

It strikes me in examining this dynamic that we have been extremely limited in our two options: the carrot or the stick. In order to best inspire good behavior, perhaps we need to think beyond rewards and punishment.

The “stick” or the threat of punishment is often employed as a deterrent for harmful behavior. The thinking goes: if people know that they will be punished for a certain action, the threat of that punishment will deter them from following through. There is an appealing logic to this line of thinking, but it isn’t as effective as we generally think. As Paul Rock notes, the ability to threaten and deliver sanctions has been found minimally effective in shaping people’s law-related behavior.[1] Additionally, re-offence rates following punishment remain stubbornly high, suggesting that the “stick” does little to prevent future negative behavior.

The “carrot” or the reward for good behavior is often used in an attempt to incentivize people to act a certain way. For example, in schools, students may receive stars or treats for good behavior or in workplaces, employees may receive a bonus for good performance. I remember classmates in High School who were paid by their parents for good grades. As Daniel Pink (2001) explains in Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, external rewards are not actually the best way to motivate people. The problem here is that the motivation for the positive behavior is based on external factors rather than internal.

The solution to this problem may be to expand our options; to think beyond the carrot and the stick. Restorative Practices suggest that the best way to encourage good, pro-social behavior is to listen. Ask open-ended question with a tone of curiosity and respect and listen genuinely to the answers. Strive to understand individuals’ needs and to make them feel heard and respected.

All people share a core need to feel they are valued and that they belong. Work to create spaces in your community that foster collaborative communication with an emphasis on equal voice. One great tool for this is the restorative circle process.

It is not deterrence through threat of punishment or incentivizing through promise of reward that holds the greatest influence on our behavior. Rather, it is an experience of our connection to others and a sense of being valued and heard by our community that fuels us to do well.

[1] Paul Rock, “Rules, Boundaries and the Courts: Some Problems in the Neo-Durkheimian Sociology of Deviance,” British journal of sociology 49, no. 4 (1998).

Sustained Restorative Dialogue – Understanding and Preventing Sexual Harm on Campus

Over the past two years, Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) has taken significant steps towards becoming a Restorative University. This has involved the use of restorative processes both in a reactive way, as a response to misconduct or incidents of harm, and a proactive way, in order to build community, enhance belonging and mutual responsibility, and identify shared community norms.

The “Sustained Restorative Dialogue” method was piloted in July 2018 as a proactive restorative process to hold difficult conversation about important community issues. The inaugural dialogue explored the issue of sexual harm and harassment on campus. It was a “sustained” dialogue in that it was run over four sessions with the same participants. It was a “restorative” dialogue in that the conversation moved in sequential sessions through the main steps of a restorative analysis – What is happening? What are the impacts? What is needed to make things right? The aim of the dialogue was to explore the broader climate that gives rise to sexual harm in the campus setting and beyond and to explore possible solutions.

The report below includes background information, the circle outlines for each session, feedback from participants, recruitment processes, and lessons learned. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

 

In September 2018, the group met again to continue the discussion of what is needed to make things right in our university community, based on the depth of understanding gained through the dialogue process. A list of their recommendations were compiled in the document below and submitted to the university for consideration.

Recommendations for VUW from SRD

Rotary Global Grant Blog July 2018

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July has been another exciting and full month!

A lot of my time this month has been devoted to dissertation revisions. I recently completed a full draft of my dissertation (minus the concluding chapter) and received feedback from my advisors on the three chapters that are most significant to my argument. I remember reading about the PhD process early on that you may think that getting a full first draft together is the hardest part, but the revision process can actually be even harder and more time consuming. I was skeptical when I read that, but it has certainly proven to be true in my case! My advisor, Chris, tells me to think writing like an oil painting, layer by layer, very slowly. I am encouraged by how I can see the work improving as I go, but it is certainly not an easy phase of the process!

A highlight of this month was a visit from David Karp to Victoria University of Wellington. He came to participate in a round table event hosted by the Chair of Restorative justice on the Restorative University concept. He also delivered a public lecture on Restorative Justice in the Time of #MeToo. David is a leader in the US in the implementation of restorative practices on university campuses and the use of restorative justice to respond to sexual harm. Both events and the chance to talk with David were outstanding!

This month I continued delivering Restorative Justice workshops for FGC Coordinators in Rotorua, Palmerston North and Christchurch. It has been a real privilege to get to work this inspiring group of people!

Haley and I also delivered a day-long Restorative Practices workshop for an early childhood center, Nga Tamariki. We facilitated skills-building exercises and facilitated conversations about the application of restorative approaches to community building and responding to conflict and misbehavior both with children and within the staff group. It was a great day!

You can check out the most recent edition of the Rotary Peacebuilder Newsletter on the topic of Peacebuilding and the Rotary Four-Way Test here. My piece highlights the alignment between restorative approaches to justice and the wisdom of the Four-Way Test.

If you are interested in reading previous issues of the Rotary Peace Building Newsletter, they are all available online here.

Restorative Practices Can Teach Students How to Handle Difficult Conversations

I recently had a conversation with a few friends about the advice we had received growing up from adults (mostly parents and teachers) when another kid picked on us. The wisdom and guidance we had received varied widely and included among others, “hit him back,” “ignore him” “she is just jealous,” “laugh it off,” “tell the teacher,” and “he must have a crush on you.”

Adults often end up intervening in conflict between children, which is certainly sometimes necessary, but there is also great value in providing kids and teenagers with the necessary tools and confidence to have these difficult conversations themselves.

A 2016 article from Psychology Today highlights some of the benefits of implementing restorative practices in schools. The first benefit listed is that restorative practices give students the tools they need to resolve conflict themselves. This quote from a student at a school in Virginia (you can read the full report here) illustrates the empowering impact of this method.

“Me and my friend were playing around in class and we actually solved [a conflict using] the Circle. It was fun but it was serious too and we did it all by ourselves. Cause my friend that used to be in the facilitator circle training, me and her we was just playing at first but my other friend, the girl I’ll call my friend and the girl I’ll call my sister, they was arguing about something or whatever. So me and X said, ‘let’s have a circle.’ and then we was playing – we was playing though, and then it actually solved their problem. Now they talk. So we actually did a Circle, all by ourselves.” -12th grade female

In addition to teaching students how to facilitate a circle process, the foundational restorative questions alone also provide young people (and adults!) with a framework through which to view and ultimately discuss conflict. Rather than ignoring a behavior, telling someone to stop because they are breaking a rule, or punishing them (either yourself or through an authority), a restoratively framed conversation focuses on the impacts of that is happening and what is needed to make things right. The three central questions are:

  1. What happened?
  2. Who was affected and how?
  3. What is needed to repair the harm and make things right?

School is a place for academic learning, but it is also a place for learning how to be with other people and to resolve conflict in a healthy way when it arises. Taking the time to teach students the tools of restorative practices can have a huge impact on their life in school and beyond.

New Zealand has done an impressive job of implementing restorative practices in schools. Many of the Ministry of Education resources are available online and can be found here.

Rotary Global Grant Blog June 2018

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June was a very exciting month for me! Earlier this year, my proposal to present my PhD research at the European Forum for Restorative Justice Conference was accepted and I received funding from my university to attend. Once I knew I was going, I submitted another proposal to deliver a workshop on Teaching Restorative Practices through Games, which was accepted as well. It was wonderful to get to share my research and training techniques with a European audience and to meet people from around Europe and the world doing such incredible work. You can check out a detailed conference program here. I will be sharing a few reflections from the conference in blog posts. The first of these reflections is about collective trauma. I felt incredibly fortunately to have the opportunity to attend and to learn more about what is happening in the European context!

This month, I also designed and delivered a restorative justice training for Family Group Conference Coordinators at Oranga Tamariki. You can see a beautiful visual note taking piece that was produced during this training in the photos above. Family Group Conferences are widely considered one of New Zealand’s greatest Restorative Justice achievements, but when a process is so thoroughly engrained in the standard justice system, it can easily lose its restorative focus at times. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to provide a reminder of important restorative principles and practices and to engage in conversation with so many inspiring practitioners. I am looking forward to three more of these sessions coming up in July.

I contributed several pieces for the most recent Restorative Well, the NACRJ newsletter, which you can read here.

I also contributed a piece on the Restorative Paradigm Shift for the most recent Rotary Peacebuilder newsletter, which you can read here.

Finally, last Friday, Wellington kicked off Matariki, the Maori New Year with a big celebration on the waterfront. The centerpiece of the celebration was seven floating fires in the shape of the constellation Pleiades. My partner, Sam, proposed the idea of the floating fires and was responsible for making it happen. The fires came together beautifully (see photo above) and it was a lovely mid-winter event!

 

 

How Can We Heal Collective Trauma?

This month, I had the incredible privilege of attending and presenting at the European Forum for Restorative Justice Conference in Tirana, Albania. The conference aims to bridge the gap between researchers, practitioners and policy-makers in the field, and in my view, it was successful in its mission. The vast majority of the plenaries and breakout sessions I attended were rich with thought-provoking content. I intend to share a few key insights from the experience in a series of posts.

One of the breakout sessions I attended asked the question, “How trauma informed are restorative justice practices with offenders?” Because trauma is a major risk factor in developing offending behavior, understanding trauma and being aware of its impact on individuals is a major topic in the restorative justice field. In order to truly address harm, facilitators must understand the harm previously experienced by offenders in order to get to the root causes of violence and misbehavior. As they say, “hurt people hurt people.” So often, both the victim and the offender in any given case need a space to experience healing and empathy.

There is a conceptual tool called the Compass of Shame that is often used to explain the different types of problematic behaviors that all indicate an unhealed trauma at their root. We don’t only experience shame when we do something wrong, we also experience it when we have a deeply negative or traumatic experience. The Compass of Shame illustrates the different ways that human beings react when they feel shame: withdrawal, attack self, avoidance, or attack others. When you see these behaviors, the best approach is to provide a space to work through the shame and trauma at the root of the negative behavior, thus healing the core issue that has given rise to the negative or harmful reaction. This will allow the individual to empathize and change their behavior.

Trauma affects not only individuals, but also larger groups and even entire societies. This is called collective trauma. Collective traumas often stir collective sentiments. The presenter noted that when a society experiences a collective trauma and it goes unhealed, it often results in a more punitive collective sentiment. What I find particularly interesting to consider is that an entire society could also be viewed through the lens of the Compass of Shame. When a society is prone to attacking others, or to a more punitive mindset, it could be an indicator of a deeper unhealed trauma. Therefore, the best approach, is not to try to deal with the manifesting behavior head on, but instead to work to provide avenues for healing the deeper trauma.

During Dr. Fania Davis’ plenary speech at the conference, she spoke about how the United States was birthed in two deep traumas: the genocide of indigenous people and slavery. The wounds of these deep traumas are not healed and because of this, the harm continues. Over the years, the form of the harm has evolved and changed, from Jim Crow laws and reservations, to mass incarceration and substance abuse, but still the harm has been perpetually re-enacted. Fania said that in order to truly address these collective traumas, we need to engage in a collective truth telling and healing process. Perhaps something similar is needed in our response to the long-time traumas of sexual assault and sexism.

Rather than reacting solely to current forms of the harm, the way it is currently manifesting on the Compass of Shame, how can we go deep to the root of the issue to provide deep healing and restoration for the traumas in our collective histories? If there is one thing restorative justice has taught us, it is that you can never really move on until the wounds of the past have been spoken, heard, and a collective plan for repair formed. It is likely that these same principles apply at a larger scale. It is time to get creative in addressing this need!

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