Strengths-Based Restorative Justice Agreements: Using Art to Make Things Right

Restorative justice practitioners place a great deal of emphasis on being strengths-based. This means identifying and supporting an individual’s assets: the positive passions, skills, interests, and connections that make them unique.

Taking the time to identify these strengths with participants has many benefits. It helps to combat feelings of stigmatizing shame by showing that you see the individual as a full person, not just through the lens of the one harmful event you are discussing. It also helps participants to see and appreciate their own strengths, which has a great impact on their perception of self and often positively impacts their future behavior. Knowing participant’s strengths and interests also allows for asset-based agreement ideas to emerge. How can a responsible party use their strengths to repair harm and make things right?

Often, participants strengths include creative talents such as art, writing, music, or performance. This can result in some outstanding contract items as responsible parties draw on those strengths to repair harm.

One teenage responsible party worked towards his aspiration to become a rap artist while repairing the harm from his offense. He created a 4-verse rap that encouraged others to stay out of trouble. Here’s the first verse:

When you get involved with beer, some may begin to cheer. Now dear.

Under the influence you will feel fear, but you’ve gotta have the mind gear, when it comes near.

But things might begin to look sincere, put it all away with smear and dance to this snare.

Instead, let it get through to you like a spear, and shape of a sphere, but you control your own life so put it in clutch and steer.

You become sad and stare, pouring tears. But once it is all clear, it seems like that is the time everything good to you disappears.

You can struggle getting a career, can’t even be a cashier, and a lot of kids get in trouble with the law each year.

We’ve got to form a frontier, to be at the level of premier.

Another young responsible party wrote a children’s book on chinchilla care to repair the harm from an animal abuse case. The last paragraph said:

Now you know how to care for your little fluffy ball.

If you have any questions, just give your vet a call.

Please love your chinny and they will love you.

These sweet gentle animals need a mommy or daddy and that can be you!

A young adult was referred for spray painting a public building with politically charged messages. One of his contract items was to express what he was trying to express through graffiti in his slam poetry. He recorded a video of himself performing his slam poem and posted it online.

A young mother struggling with guilt chose to explore her artistic talents as a way of repairing harm to herself and expressing her love for her child.

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These artistic contract items allow responsible parties to reflect on the experience, repair harm, and also grow their own strengths and talents.

Are you looking for ways to practice encouraging greater creativity in ideas for repairing harm? Check out the game Out of the Box at www.RestorativeTeachingTools.com.

Restorative Justice Has Something for Everyone

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.”