An article I wrote about the use of Restorative Practices in the Residence Halls at Victoria University was just published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly. You can find the full article here.
An article I wrote about the use of Restorative Practices in the Residence Halls at Victoria University was just published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly. You can find the full article here.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
What concept of justice do you think this image communicates? How would you illustrate restorative justice?
 Brunilda Pali, “Images of Alternative Justice: The Alternative of Restorative Justice,” Crime, Media, and Popular Culture (2017): 11.
 Ibid., 5.
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. 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.
 Paul Rock, “Rules, Boundaries and the Courts: Some Problems in the Neo-Durkheimian Sociology of Deviance,” British journal of sociology 49, no. 4 (1998).
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.
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:
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.
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!
What is “justice”?
Take a few moments to think about that question. It is a word we use a lot. “Demand justice.” “Seek justice.” “Justice has been done.”
But what do we really mean when we use the word “justice”?
Often times, justice is understood as retributive harming: an eye for an eye. In the justice system, schools, workplaces, and internationally, we look to punish those who have violated rules or laws. Punishment involves responding to harm by causing reciprocal harm. This is often justified through the reasoning that it will deter future negative behavior. However, what researchers have found is that punishment, regardless of the context, often results in feelings of stigmatizing shame on the part of those punished. This experience of shame leads those who have been punished to reject their rejecter (those in authority) and the rules of their rejecter’s system. Through this dynamic of shame, punishment actually often leads to an increase in future harmful behavior and an adversarial relationship between those who have caused harm and the people and system responsible for “doing justice.”
Restorative justice offers a shift in how we understand justice and the pursuit of justice. Rather than retribution, justice is understood as healing and the pursuit of respectful social relationships. Central to the restorative approach to justice making is the questions, “How can we respond to harm without causing further harm?” Restorative justice seeks to put things right for all involved.
One of the best ways to understand this restorative shift in the concept and implementation of justice is too look at the questions asked. Whereas the punitive concept of justice focuses on violations of laws and appropriate punishment, restorative justice focuses on how the people involved have been affected and what can be done to make things right.
The Restorative Shift
|Punitive Justice Questions||Restorative Justice Questions|
|1. What rule/law was broken?||1. What happened?|
|2. Who did it?||2. Who was affected?|
|3. How should he/she be punished?||3. What can be done to repair the harm and make things right?|
Bring to mind a situation in your life where you have experienced an injustice. First, try applying the punitive justice questions. What are the outcomes? How are the relationships impacted? Next, try applying the restorative justice questions to the same situation. How did this shift in the questions you asked and the concept of justice you pursued change the situation? As you go through your day, try the same exercise with stories in the news and problems you encounter with your family, friends and colleagues. You will be amazed by the difference this shift can make!
While restorative justice is not therapy, it often has therapeutic outcomes for participants. Particularly at the pre-conference stage, the facilitator’s role can feel akin to that of a therapist, helping to guide and support clients on their own journey towards healing, learning and growth.
This week, I have been reading some of Carl Rogers’ work in which he seeks to identify what elements or conditions are necessary in order for the client to experience positive therapeutic movement. Some of Rogers’ assertion deal with the necessary conditions of a therapist in order to facilitate positive change in a client. I find these necessary conditions highly applicable to the role of facilitators throughout the restorative justice process.
Specifically, Rogers identifies three conditions which when they occur in a therapist and are to some degree perceived by the client, will lead to progress and growth for the client. Each of these conditions is similarly an essential condition for restorative justice facilitators.
1. Congruence (“Be Real”)
“The therapist should be, within the confines of that relationship, a congruent, genuine, integrated person. It means that within the relationship he is freely and deeply himself, with his actual experience accurately represented by his awareness of himself. It is the opposite of presenting a façade, either knowingly or unknowingly. It is not necessary (nor is it possible) that the therapist be a paragon who exhibits this degree of integration, of wholeness, in every aspect of his life. It is sufficient that he is accurately himself in this hour of this relationship, that in this basic sense he is what he actually is, in this moment of time.” 
A facilitator, like a therapist, must “Be Real.” We all know from experience that there is nothing more off-putting than interacting with someone who you can sense is putting on a show, or is acting in a way that doesn’t align with their inner self. Maybe it is a false-sounding tone of voice or statements and gestures that feel more like a performance, those moments of un-realness can be unsettling and discourage the development of trust. Naturally, as a facilitator, there will be moment where something comes up and you have to keep calm on the outside while inside your wheels are turning to figure out what to do next, but I think there is still a way to manage that necessity while being real. A lot of this comes down to taking time before a pre-conference or conference to center yourself, to focus inward and notice your feeling and thoughts as they come up. Breathe deeply and connect with that inner most version of self where your wisdom and intuition reside. Then go into the process with that most genuine self in full expression rather than trying to act in a way you think you should or have seen others act. Come to the process with your real, true self shinning!
This also points to the importance of an ongoing practice of personal growth and discovery for all people, but especially for those in helping professions. As many wise teachers throughout the ages have explained, the cultivation of inner peace is an essential part of building peace in the world around us. For a beautiful account of the importance of this inner work in the peace builder’s journey, I recommend my friend Kathleen McGoey’s book.
I appreciate that Rogers notes that it is impossible to be in this state of congruence at all times or in every aspect of our lives. It is a life-long journey to learn how to live more and more in authenticity. However, when you have the honor of facilitating a deeply transformative and healing process for clients, it is so important to take the time to bring yourself to that place. When facilitating conferences, I generally schedule myself at least 45 minutes prior to the beginning of the conference in which I have nothing else to do. This allows me time to arrive early, set up the space, and also take some time in meditation, focusing on my breath and checking in with my thoughts and energy, centering myself for the process ahead.
2. Unconditional Positive Regard (“Love”)
“When the therapist is experiencing a warm, positive and acceptant attitude toward what is in the client, this facilitates change. It involves the therapist’s genuine willingness for the client to be whatever feeling is going on in him at that moment, – fear, confusion, pain, pride, anger, hatred, love, courage, or awe. It means that the therapist cares for the client, in a non-possessive way. It means that he prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way. By this I mean that he does not simply accept the client when he is behaving in certain ways, and disapprove of him when he behaves in other ways. It means an outgoing positive feeling without reservation, without evaluations.” 
At a restorative justice conference a few years ago, I saw Dr. Cornel West speak and at the center of his speech was this wonderful explanation: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” In order to help people, we must love them. People are more likely to change for the better when they sense that they are loved and accepted no matter what. The behavior may be seen as bad, but the person is still innately good and accepted.
This point relates closely to the dynamic of shame in the restorative justice process. As we know, offenders are often vilified and face what legal scholar John Braithwaite termed “stigmatizing shame.” When an offender is degraded through shame, it poses a threat to his or her identity. The offender is likely to respond by rejecting the rejector (mainstream society) and the rules valued by the rejector (the law). A solution to this isolation is to turn to criminal subcultures, which provide a culture of pride in delinquency, as well as personal connections and resources. In this way, stigmatization of offenders perpetuates criminal behavior and ultimately makes communities less safe.
The only way to stop this destructive cycle of shame, is to learn to love the person who caused harm unconditionally, separating the person from the behavior. Learning to love those who have caused harm I feel is one of the greatest human lessons, and it is certainly not easy. It is a lesson put into practice by many of the most powerful leaders throughout human history including Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Jesus. It is a difficult practice to learn to meet clients and hear their stories while holding this unconditional positive regard, and to learn how to not try to use your approval or disapproval to shape their behavior, but it is so necessary for effective facilitation. It is also in alignment with a restorative worldview, which sees all people as innately good and unconditionally worthy of love.
3. Empathetic Understanding (“Empathize”)
“When the therapist is sensing the feelings and personal meanings which the client is experiencing in each moment, when he can perceive these from ‘inside,’ as they seem to the client, and when he can successfully communicate something of that understanding to his client, then this third condition is fulfilled.” 
The final condition that Rogers emphasizes is empathy. This also relates to the dynamics of shame within the restorative justice process. Another of my favorite thinkers, Dr. Brené Brown, has said, “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” When we are able to genuinely feel and express empathy to victim, offender, and communities of care, it helps to transform that shame into healing and a motivation to work towards making things right.
In my experience, the more you facilitate and the more you have the opportunity to practice putting yourself in the shoes of each participant in a restorative justice process and really feeling what they feel, the easier this becomes. It is something that must be practiced, and a skill that I hope that schools will emphasize to a greater degree in the future, because I see it as one of the most essential skills to being human.
There are, of course, other important skills, understandings, and abilities that contribute to good restorative justice facilitation. However, the three conditions outlined by Rogers seem like a powerful starting point. If we can learn to be real, to love, and to empathize with the people we work with, we are at a powerful starting point for facilitating positive transformation.
 Carl Rogers, “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 60, no. 6 (1992): 828.
 On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (London: Constable & Company Ltd. , 1961), 62.
 John Braithwaite, Crime, Shame and Reintegration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
 Rogers, 62.
Please note that both the pre-conference and the conference processes are significantly shorter than they would be in real life. In real life, each meeting is generally at least twice as long as shown, giving the opportunity to ask additional questions to dive deeper into the incident, impacts and needs. In real life, participants would also likely have a support person present.
Victim Post-Incident Interview:
Offender Post-Incident Interview:
Pre-Conference Meeting with Offender:
Restorative Justice Conference:
Victoria University of Wellington recently featured an article about the work Haley and I are doing at the university and beyond. Check it out at the link below!
Two Victoria University researchers are using their unique skill sets to support the restorative justice efforts at the University. Read more here.
“If we can get people to sit down together and have a space where respectful conversation can unfold, then empathy is going to follow. It gives people a chance to understand the need and the story behind what happened,” Lindsey says.
“The empathy goes both ways—the person who caused the harm develops an understanding of the impacts that were felt by others, and those who were impacted learn to see the person who caused the harm as a person, not just as one bad thing that happened. They get a chance to encounter each other’s humanness.”