A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a restorative justice facilitator training. Although I’ve heard about restorative justice (RJ) for years I didn’t have a good understanding of the theory or practice. Restorative justice is a process of examining harms done to individuals and a community and working to do what can be done to address the harms.
RJ is not a process for determining who is responsible but begins with an admission of responsibility. If all parties are willing to participate, a process (conference or circle process were the ones we discussed) is engaged to clarify what happened, the harms done, and what can be done to work to make everyone participating in the process more whole. This includes the responsible parties, harmed parties, and the broader community. The harms can be physical/material, emotional/spiritual, and relational/community. The parties discuss what happened, the harms, brainstorm possible solutions to address the harms, and make commitments to some of the solutions generated.
I was struck by the cord of hope running throughout the process. The harmed parties enter hoping to be made more whole and to have their faith in themselves, the responsible party, and the world restored. The responsible parties enter hoping to be seen as a whole person and not just as an action or behavior (see guilt vs shame). It is also a hopeful process for the community. In many ways this is simply a process to allow each of the parties to follow their desperation to move past the pain, guilt, hurt, and disillusionment and move toward forgiveness.
It was also a powerful reminder about just how much work we as educators and facilitators need to do to manage a process for others and not make the process about us. It can be so tempting to make what happened among others secretly (and not so secretly) about resolving our own pain, hurt, guilt, and shame. The best facilitation is less facilitation.
I’d love to hear others experiences with restorative justice including successes, concerns, and implementation experiences.