A Restorative Conference, a Conference Circle and Circle-circle

You may be new to Restorative Justice, if so, the differences between a Circle and a Conference can be somewhat confusing. 

You don’t know, what you don’t know. 

If you have been doing, what you think is a Circle – they you call it Circle.  Maybe that is the best word to describe it.  If a ‘Conference’ is between a victim and an offender, what if you have other people attending.  Even more complicated, you can add a ‘talking piece’.   To me, that is bringing a tool from Circle into the ‘Conference’.  I think Circles have some key elements – I did a post on that here.

Restorative Justice is grass-roots and some definitions begin with the start of the programs in the 70’s.  I like to think of Restorative Justice as what people did prior to formal legal systems.  Lakota and Navajo people are two examples, Circles are part of culture and ceremony.  Terms like Restorative Justice didn’t exist then.

I’d like to offer a few thoughts – and clarify some aspects of Circle.

Circle elements Circle elements.jpg

There are four stages in a Restorative Justice Circle.  I use the Conference questions in the 3rd stage.

I’ve seen a  few Restorative Justice videos recently and you can’t see everything and you don’t know what was edited out.  My concerns were what I didn’t see and the ‘tone’ of the Circlekeeper.  I didn’t see values being identified or discussed.  The ‘Circlekeeper’ did not promote a balanced leadership.  To me that is a very crucial part of a Restorative Justice Circle. 

If you as the leader are the only one responsible and would even ‘stop’ the Circle, then I don’t think that practice is completely grounded in Restorative Justice Circle.  When everyone is included and responsible for the functioning of the Circle, that is the engagement of equality.  If as the keeper you feel the Circle is off task – bring that question to the Center of the Circle.  If you stop a Circle you are the Circles ‘higher power’.  If you haven’t done alot of Circles, I might sound off my rocker. 

I spend time in the introductory phases.  I make sure we have talked about values and committed to honor those values.  This is done with consensus.  I cannot think of a single Circle I stopped.  I did, one time, stand up and spread my arms as far to each side, and very loudly said “honor the talking piece”.  I was in a juvenile detention center, and strong expressions about ‘race’ were going back and forth.  I have asked a circle how are we honoring the values.  You bring it to the Center, and recenter the Circle to that.

A person I consier to be very brilliant, was talking about doing Circles, and she clarified she doesn’t do the values and “all of that”.  She knew my style and committment to the Circle process.  It’s okay to have different styles, I think when starting out, getting and being grounded in the core philosophical approach is best.

You can use a ‘talking piece’ or sit in a Circle.  Those  are elements  that bring a depth of conversation.  You can even do a restorative justice conference – in a Circle shape.  There are differences and nuances to each process.  Some people really utilize a conferencing script, some use the questions as a guideline.

The wonderful thing about Restorative Justice is that these things happen on a continuum.  We can flow along from one end to the other and find our space and skills.

My blog is about Restorative Justice and Circles.  So I get to share my experiences.  The Circle practice has changed me to be a better person.  I’ve seen and experiences many people having deep and transformative experiences.  I want to promote the process to be as ‘restorative’ based as possible.  Best of luck with developing your practice and style.

Comments are closed.