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.

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

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.

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

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.

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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