Thank you to the Sage and Sassy Sisterhood for asking me to do this short interview on Restorative Justice. You can watch the full interview here:
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!
As a committed podcast fan, I was very excited to be part of the Talking Piece Podcast. Thank you Glenn Millar for a great conversation about Restorative Practices training!
This is a great video by two Skidmore students, Sarah Jensen and Mary Brimmer. They follow two students from David Karp’s Restorative Practices class who facilitate community building circles in a local high school. A powerful example of the impact of circle practice!
Haley and I were interviewed for the EdX course Restorative Justice and Practice: Emergence of a Social Movement about the implementation of restorative practices at Victoria University, specifically in the Residential Halls. Check out the videos below for two clips from that interview.
This is a great article written by a friend of mine, Eric Rasmussen, who went through Longmont Community Justice Partnership’s Restorative Practices for the Classroom training. He has implemented Connection Circles in his middle school classroom and the results have been amazing! Enjoy!
This episode of the podcast Invisibilia, “Flip the Script,” is well worth a listen. The first two stories are about the power of responding to violence and hostility with love. The first story is about an attempted robbery at a dinner party and the second story is about how a Danish town helped young, frustrated Muslims turn away from ISIS. Both stories speak to the human need for belonging and offer a way for us to respond to wrongdoings not by punishing or causing further harm, but rather by embracing the wrongdoer and working towards the best outcome for everyone. This shift, this flip in the script, is at the root of Restorative Justice and is the most powerful and transformative tool available to our human community.
Listen to the podcast here.
State Representative Pete Lee has successfully passed several bills advancing Restorative Justice in Colorado since he was first elected in 2011. The most recent of these bills was passed unanimously. At the Colorado Restorative Justice Symposium in September, Representative Lee explained how he achieved this astounding bipartisan support.
“To the Libertarian Republicans who are skeptical of all government, I talked about how restorative justice removes criminal offenses from the judicial system and allows the parties to work out their issues with a private facilitator.
To the Fiscal Conservatives, I spoke about cost savings.
To the Moral Conservatives, I emphasized individual responsibility and accountability.
To the Progressives, I spoke about creating communities and repairing relationships.
To the Law and Order Set, I spoke about enhanced public safety and reduced recidivism and restitution.
To the Victim Advocates, I talked about respect, and the beginning of healing.
The elegance of restorative justice is that is has something for everyone.”
By Fellow Officer
This piece was written by a police officer about his first experience with restorative justice. He submitted the piece to be shared anonymously with other officers.
Restorative justice? Yeah right! Bad guys go to jail. That’s the way it is and should stay. Ask any child how the game of “cops and robbers” is played. Simple enough.
That was my thinking. With nearly three years of working the mean streets of our city I had it all figured out. “Cops vs. robbers,” and the more “robbers” I put in jail the better of a “cop” I was.
Then came this “restorative justice” nonsense. A new and improved way of doing things, that I was basically being forced to participate in. Instead of putting bad guys in jail we would sit with them in a “peace circle” and tell them just how bad they were. Then we’d give them hugs and sing Kumbaya right? You’ve got to be kidding me! That is not how it works. Obviously the “higher ups” had been sitting at their desk for too long and grown delirious. Now we were having to change everything based on their skewed vision of justice.
But the recidivism rate speaks for itself. Restorative justice works. Humph! I’d show them. Let’s see what happens when we start putting some real criminals into their program. See how the recidivism rate does then. They were probably fudging the numbers anyhow.
So began my master plan. All I needed now was the right dirt bag at the right time. And then I found him, Jerry. Every cop in our city knew Jerry. Habitually drunk, probably holding “crack” or some other illicit street narcotic, and more likely than not in the company of one of our most highly ill regarded local prostitutes. It was a beautiful sight in my eyes. Jerry, drunk as usual, pushing a shopping cart full of groceries he’s just lifted from the local grocer. “I will be seeing you in the ‘peace circle’ my friend.”
Our “circle” came not long after that. I donned my freshly pressed uniform, shined my boots and put on my best toothy smile. As I walked into the circle I noted that Jerry had probably been drinking already that day. Perfect! However, all the facilitators were friendly, courteous, and respectful towards Jerry. In turn he seemed to be minding his “Ps and Qs.” Being my skeptical self I figured he was just putting on a show and enjoying the free snacks and attention.
As our “circle” got underway it was apparent the facilitators had come prepared. I was especially impressed by an elderly male facilitator who must have done extensive research on shop lifting and its repercussions. He quoted statistics and gave a play by play numerical break down of how even the smallest theft comes back to affect every consumer in the community. It was actually quite impressive. Jerry seemed interested, but still seemed to lack any real concern for how his actions were affecting others.
Then came a pivotal moment. A second facilitator posed the question to Jerry, “How did you get here, what led you down this path?” Jerry initially told us he wasn’t sure and spoke about his substance abuse and related problems. Everyone calmly listened and let him go on. Jerry continued. “Maybe this all started when my mother died,” he though out loud. Jerry went on to explain what his mother had meant to him and how her passing had affected him. As he went on I could hear his voice change and see he was having difficulty getting through this. Despite living a destructive lifestyle, Jerry was not weak, and had kept his pride intact for the most part. I could see that same pride was crumbling down as he came face to face with the demons of his past.
Jerry went on for several more minutes, no longer able to maintain his composure while reflecting on his mother’s death and his own fall shortly afterwards. At first I thought this too was an act but it became clear as time went on that Jerry was truly sincere in his confession. The facilitator who posed that initial question offered Jerry a kind hug while another retrieved a box of Kleenex. The Kleenex was appreciated by all.
A contract was discussed and agreed upon. Jerry would complete an apology letter and do several hours of community service. The agreement seemed fair, more so than I had seen in the court system. Despite his emotional and seemingly heartfelt confession, I still had doubts as to Jerry’s ability to follow through with the contract and not reoffend. I was sure it was a matter of time.
So I waited, and waited, and waited. I had waited long enough in fact that I had forgotten about Jerry and my plan entirely. Then one day, probably a year or more later, I was on bike patrol in a local park. I spotted a lone rider coming my way in the distance. As the rider got closer I immediately recognized him as Jerry, a much more sober and healthier looking Jerry. Jerry stopped and we spoke for several minutes. He told me how the “circle” had changed things for him. He had a new perspective on life. Part of his community service was completed at a local church. He had made some strong connections with that church and was now doing work for them on a regular basis. He was also sober and spending time in the gym again. Jerry had even reconnected with his family and was working towards healing those broken relationships, while making up for lost time with his daughter. I was both shocked and proud of what Jerry had accomplished.
Before we went our separate ways that day Jerry thanked me for giving him a chance when no one else would. I did not fill Jerry in on the finer details of my plan, but did confess I had doubted he would make it. Jerry smiled, a very real smile, and laughed that he would have doubted himself too.
To this day I occasionally see Jerry out riding his bike or at a coffee shop and we take a few minutes to catch up. He is still doing well and is even using his past mistakes to help steer his family, friends, and acquaintances from going down the wrong path. Each time I see Jerry I am reminded of the good that came from our restorative justice meeting, our “circle.” I am also reminded of my own ill intentioned plan to doom that program. More importantly, I am reminded that there is hope for even the most seemingly lost of people. Day in and day out I see the same people struggle with addiction, mental illness, or just plain old poor decision making. Jerry is a constant reminder to me that it can be done, people can overcome, and that opportunity should be given to everyone. Who knows, there could be more Jerrys out there just waiting for someone to give them that chance. That is my hope.
Q: Why did you decide to integrate restorative justice into the Police Department?
A: Having worked in the criminal justice system for as long as I have and seeing the results over a period of time and its effectiveness or lack thereof and believing there are other forces out there that could be brought to bear that could have more impact on keeping our communities safe. There had to be a better way of figuring this out. It all started with “this isn’t working, something is amiss.” We came to work and lived with a level of ineffectiveness and no one was asking questions. We just keep doing what we’re doing, going down a path of insanity.
Q: How did you begin the process of integrating a Restorative Justice program?
A: I began talking to elected officials, officers, and school officials, writing briefings, and having conversations with everyone. Then eventually I had to pull the trigger and say we’re going to try something new. You know you’re going to get push back when you introduce something different from what people have been trained and taught to do.
It was conviction, finding champions, conversations, beginning the development of awareness and a different level of consciousness of what’s possible. Slowly, it became more institutionalized. It wasn’t something I could force. It’s one conversation, one gathering, and one person at a time. No magic bullet out there, it’s just the work and staying with it.
Q: What advice would you give to Restorative Justice Organizations hoping to partner with police in their communities?
A: I would bring in other police departments who have gone down that path. Find a department where they’ve had success and say these folks are police folks they know how to talk to other police folks. We have gone to police departments at their request to say here is why we did it, and here are the results. If you know anyone with leverage who could champion this, have this conversation with them. Everyone wants results and data, have it at the ready.
It comes down to conversations, relationships, conviction, bringing in people from other police departments. There’s not a lot of magic. It’s just a matter of conviction, staying with it, going at it again and again. You can say that with just about any process or change.
There are police departments on bended knee right now trying to figure out how to make different relationships with their community. More than ever, they are wanting to figure out new ways of doing business. Will we just be the hammer that comes down on people? Or can we be something else in our community? That question looms big now more than ever. The ground is fertile, the time is ripe, the window of opportunity is big now, so jump on it. Now is time to bring all these things into play.