5 key reasons Restorative Justice enhances the effectiveness of drug and problem-solving courts.

Following the heels of the published success of drug courts, veterans courts have emerged.  A recent CNN story highlighted success in California.  I really appreciated that the Judge featured shared this:

” . . . we have a ethical and moral obligation to restore . . .”

SCVRJP has been collaborating with area drug courts and treatment courts.  I shared a manual in April, 2010.  My experience has been in seeing current and former drug court participants as volunteers in SCVRJP programming and services.  Our first contact may have been because they were clients, and the impact was so powerful they became volunteers.  My other experience is from working with the family members and victims of drug court participants.  I am networked and woven into our community of prevention, intervention and treatment when it comes to crime, addiction and violence.  I hear such powerful feedback in Circles about the impact of these courts and the restorative justice aspects.  I want to highlight why Restorative Justice enhances this work.

1.) Capitalize on the 2nd chance.  Problem solving courts are a prison alternative.  You can guarantee public safety for as long as you lock a person up.  You can not guarantee they will change, grow or amend themselves.  Restorative Justice focuses on values and living in harmony in your community and relationships with others.  Values in a relationship and focusing and living with positive values, enhance all of us.  Restorative Justice is about respect, all RJ work is rooted in this.  Teaching people to respect themselves, loved ones and the community – as well as to respect the relationship to courts and second chances.

2.) Provide prosocial peers/community connections.  A volunteer group is a social network.  People are healthier with more networks.  People who have turned their lives around are valued in Restorative Justice.  Where else can people use lessons from the past to help the future?  Volunteers help others avoid pitfalls and negative consequences by sharing their stories in Circles.   We have an accepting network in Restorative Justice, it evolves from the deep connections made in Circle.  Since Circles serve all in attendance, the victims, bystander, family members and offenders are ALL helped, all supported and all healed.  This creates a supportive environment that keeps people coming back around to volunteer or attend events, once you are in Circle you are part.

3.)Promotes healing.  Restorative Justice is not psychotherapy, it is not addiction treatment it is not group therapy.  Restorative Justice is an entirely different process for people to heal and connect.  Many trauma goes unaddressed, unresolved.  The symptoms are addressed but the root cause goes untreated.  Using drugs to numb emotional pain causes further issues, addiction, breaking the law, breakdowns in relationships, etc, etc, etc.  Bloom found the top 10 causes of death can be directly related to childhood trauma!  What better time and place for people to work on healing then while also engaged in therapy and treatment.  Restorative Justice, especially Circles provides people the safe space to explore these issues.  Restorative Justice sharing is by invitation and the invitation to be vulnerable by means of honesty and openness provides deep insights for people.

4.)Community bonds.  People connect in a way that people voluntarily go visit them at work or attend graduations.  Imagine you hurt someone, badly.  Then a person who was harmed by the same evil you caused aligns with you and becomes a support.  You understand each other because you see different sides of the same coin.  We have seen that someone else’s parents can influence offender deeply.  Other offenders can transform the parents of an offender.  Imagine seeing family members be less judgemental about addiction.

5.) Restorative Justice WORKS!  In 2006 Umbriet published an article about the evidence of Restorative Justice.  Restorative Justice the EVIDENCE, was a study of studies about RJ.  Reaching beyond the evidence for offenders, Restorative Justice supports the community and victims.  Restorative Justice heals people for all aspects of the issue, not just the criminal aspect.  Restorative Justice addresses the social and emotional impact of crime.  Restorative Justice provides dialogue that helps people process their lives.

Problem solving courts need not go it alone.  Restorative Justice community programs exist all over the world, as the US is growing more and more problem solving courts, they may want to rely on the expertise and evidence established by Restorative Justice.

Balance and alignment can be like justice and healing, different and similar.

Work-Life balance, it’s a familiar  mantra.  Encouraging us to have equal joy, equal efforts, equal time.  I believe in being congruent, being a person of value and principle, at home or work.

Another phrase we use: “All work and no play”.  I think that is a statement used to justify play.  I’m tainted, I was raised by a farmer.  He worked or slept.  He would get up through the night to check the cows when they were calving.  The older I get the more I realize what an impact my fathers work ethic had on me, and how much I struggle to not be hurt, but to heal from my past.

I have a few people in my life that are comfortable enough around me to respond honestly.  Someone recently told me something I shared was  messed-up.  I shared that the only reason I wasn’t at the office at 2:30 in the morning, was because I would have set off the building alarm.  I explained that in a previously job, if I couldn’t sleep I would get up and go into work at 2:30 am.  I would stay until co-workers began to show up.  I would then,  go home, shower, get ready and get my daughter off to school.  I disclosed that when she was an early teen I left her alone, in the middle of the night.  It was then, I was told, that was messed-up.  I laughed, but it bugged me.

I want to be a “balanced” person.  I want to be better than I was 6-8 years ago.  I had to honestly look at myself, had I gone backwards in a negative behavior?  I remember a new boss, telling me not to arrive before my first official work day.  I wanted to come in early, set up my office, be ready to hit the ground running.  He told me not to do that.  He said people would get scared I would want them to work as hard as I was.  That was 10 years ago and I didn’t think I worked harder than anyone, and part of me, honestly thought, shit they should be scared!  I do want them to work that hard!  I hope I’ve softened my management style!  I know I’ve learned to try and balance my work ethic.

A recent inspiration in my email: 

Work-life balance is a myth. Balance is achieved between two opposing forces. Work and life should be in unison, not opposition.

I appreciate the work of Simon Sinek.  I liked this quote it reminded me to work towards my values.

So how does this fit with the blog title about justice and healing?  Let me briefly explain . . .

Imagine an eye for an eye world.  What comes around goes around.  Is that justice?  Our formal system is designed to achieve justice.  What does that mean?  The offender serves the prison term, pays the fine and restitution.  The victim is compensated monetarily and given chance for an impact statement in court.  Does justice bring healing?  My area and speciality is “dealing with healing” (I tell people “dealing with healing” is the restorative justice bumper sticker).

I have to find alignment with my weaknesses (work-ethic/workaholic), balance is a good place to start.  To align my values and live with who I am, that is alignment.

Justice can be served.  How do we ‘serve’ healing.  Can we align justice with healing?  I think so, I try to do it everyday.  Can we balance justice and healing?

Balance is the outer world (time, physical presence, how do I appear to others).

Alignment is internal (how am I with my values, my life, my perspectives and philosophy).

Justice is the outer world (replacing what was taken physically, focused on others, everyone gets the same time for the same crime).

Healing is internal (how I make the most of my past, how do to integrate experiences for the greater good).

Now think of them all together . . . . balance, alignment, justice and healing.  We need the first 3 to get to the last one.

Circles promote alliance. Alliance is crucial to change, healing, recovery and restoration.

My background is in counseling.  The therapeutic alliance was important, often highlighted at the most important component for change.  Positive relationships between therapist and client brought about the most positive and long-lasting changes.

As social workers, teachers, probation officers the professional alliance is the relationship from professional to client.  Restorative Justice professionals/providers/specialists/facilitators also need to be aware of the role alliance can play in helping people address issues of crime and conflict.

The unique role a restorative justice professional plays it to be aligned with restorative justice philosophy and not to a person on a particular side of an issue (victim or offender).  Circle process allows for us to be equally and uniquely aligned with people.

Teachers can sit with students, facilitate a Circle and focus on the learning community or each students relationships to the subject matter or classroom environment.  No other form gives you the sense of “we are all in this together” like forming a Circle and facing each other.

Circles help create alliance, because they bring out a place inside of us that is common to everyone else.  The equality sets up a safety, the values give us guidelines.  The best, most productive inner dialogue you might have gets to be spoken out loud.

I was doing a presentation on social justice to a group of students.  In that group, a few students that had some Circle experience.  I spontaneously asked if those students that had participated would be willing to all stand up and offer the rest of the group some feedback.  I had not prepared the students, or even warned them about this.  That is the confidence I have in Circle process, to allow students to share their experiences with others.

A few students in the audience stood up.  I had them share one by one, going from the left of the room to the right.  As the last student started to sit down, another young man stood up.  It struck me that he waited until the last moment to identify himself.  It occurred to me I asked a great deal from these students, to stand up identified, to take turns explaining something without preparation.  I learned a great deal from what this young man offered.

He said that when you speak in Circle, you are so comfortable, the way it is set up is so cool, you can start to talk to people.  He shared that in Circle he said things about himself that he didn’t even know.

That seems odd, that you would say something about yourself that you didn’t even know.  Yet, I completely identified with his experience, I have experienced that and seen it happen other times (in Circle).  I think it is exploring your inner landscape in the presence and safety of others.  These times when people share deeply about an experience or reflect on someone elses story is a place where you see the change happening.  I believe it is alliance between us as human beings that allows this simultaneous exploration and discovery.  Without it, how could we ever become better people.

I encourage you to sit in Circle – in professional relationships.   Align with those you work with around relationship values.

Mentoring and recognizing the depth and skill needed to facilitate Restorative Justice.

A few recent experiences of trying to offer some coaching and mentoring, didn’t go so well.  I feel an obligation to the profession to help others with Restorative Justice.  I struggle because I don’t want to come off like a “know-it-all”.  I try to find balance in sharing my experiences (so others don’t make the same mistakes) and trusting the universe to give each person the lessons needed.  Sometimes I fail at both.

It was the story of a Circle that “fell apart” and how this group can’t even use the term Restorative Justice because people were so turned off by the experience.  It hurts me when RJ gets a bad rap or someone is doing it and not holding deeply to the philosophy and practice.   I was trying to explain that Restorative Justice can look easy from the outside, trying to encourage deeper training or learning before facilitating.  I have been mulling over a blog post about how I get “romanced” by men, in the same way some people get romanced by restorative justice.  Things look great, easy and wonderful on the surface.  So you jump in a then find out prince charming is prince alarming!

I was trying to explain the process is much more than just facilitating the Circle, I explained pre-conferencing sessions.  I was informed they did a pre-conference and just didn’t know they were doing it.     The process was taken lightly without work on a deeper understanding of what exactly it means to do Restorative Justice.  It is a way of processing with people.  It is a way of using a compass (which Zehr refers to it as) with others, while you let them find their own compass about the experience.

Rather than details of my latest romance that went from dream boat to ship wreck, I have a resource that validates the depth of Restorative Justice.  The Forgiveness Institute, provides a list of what forgiveness about.  I like the entire list, but especially point 3:

Important Distinction:

  • Forgiveness:     One person’s moral response to another’s injustice
  • Reconciliation:  Two parties coming together in mutual respect

And now,  few mentoring tips to you about facilitating restorative justice circles and conferences:

1.) You need to be respectful of everyone involved and the PROCESS itself.  You do this by preparing people to be respectful to each other.  Sometimes that means working with victims through the stages of revenge and retaliation.

2.) Try to understand ALL points of view.  Be able to explain what each side’s perspective is WITHOUT actually doing it!  You make sure those perspectives have been articulated and seen the light of day at least once before the actual session.  It takes time and preparation to run a Restorative Justice Conference well.  Engage victims, offenders, community members or surrogates in the process.  Know how you yourself are feeling and thinking about the event you are processing.  Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by subconscious views of what the injustice was or is.

3.)Remember hurt people hurt.  A Facebook friend recently posted this quote:  The hurt that troubled children create is never greater than the hurt that they feel. – Tobin.  The quote had a link to Circle of Courage on Facebook.  (ps. LOVE the work of Reclaiming Youth International).  I try to teach that we react to wrongdoing as if it all comes from a place of malice, we need to learn to respond that it could be confusion.

4.) Keep in mind, that saying “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” are each person’s own, the process of Restorative Justice is about harms, needs, obligations and engagement.  Focus on these aspects and leave the transformative statements of apology and forgiveness to each person.  If it comes up discuss it.  Restorative Justice is engaging people in dialogue and creating plans to make it right.

5.) Remember this simple motto for restorative justice:  Healing Hearts, Changing Lives.  When you do restorative justice well that motto applies to you and you will feel it.  So if someone says they were pre-conferencing and didn’t know it.  They weren’t really doing restorative justice work, because you know it.

Using Restorative Justice Circles to heal from suicide.

In April 2010 the River Falls community held a community forum/panel on suicide.  The panel of presenters included mental health, social services, school and community representatives.  The topic was relevant as our region experienced a high number of suicides.  The program aired on RFC TV, Chn 16.  Near that time SCVRJP was holding a Circle Training.  Circle trainings are two full days, and usually people leave the first day in a positive daze.  We have usually connected in a meaningful way to people who just hours ago were strangers.  It is an experience that leaves you thinking about it, long after it ends.  Day 2 starts with people reporting back on what they thought about the night before.  An idea mentioned was a talking circle around suicide.  I loved it. 

SCVRJP deals with helping heal trauma, usually it is crime, not always.  We help grieving family members by giving them a safe place to tell their story.  Telling your story can have healing effects.  Storytelling can also be very powerful in transforming behavior. 

Stories impact people immediately and both, short and long-term.  This is how we measure if we have impacted change.  The hope is an immediate emotional reaction, followed by short term changes in behavior followed in long-term change in values and principles.  One behavior SCVRJP targets is driving impaired.  If you can have someone change the value system from “It’s okay to do, once in awhile” to “I never, ever drink & drive”, you are transforming individuals and community, increasing public safety and preventing tragic events.

When people share stories and talk about suicide in Restorative Response Circles, there is a deepness.  For those immediately and directly impacted, they share a common loss.  There is a phrase that “healing happens closest to the wound”.  When people who have been wounded by suicide share with each other, they are able to be closer, because they know that wound.  The listeners of story have an automatic empathy because of their own experience.  It is purposeful listening, to understand both yourself, your experiences and the experience of the storyteller.  You really do get to know yourself by getting to know others.

Restorative Justice brings in perspectives and tries to engage victim, offender and community members.  In Restorative Response Circles, we have perspectives from different angles regarding suicide.  We have people share that previous attempts or were hospitalized for their own safety.  This angle brings survivors a little closer to the experience their loved one may have had.  It also gives people a meaningful place to relate these experiences.

I beleive feelings of isolation lead to feelings of suicide.  Restorative Response Circles lift that isolation and go one step further and give people a place for meaningful interactions.  After hearing how a Mother was impacted, the teen pulled up her sleeve, revealed her scars and shared “I am so glad I didn’t suceed, now I know what I would have done to my Mom.”

A school in Ohio is being sued after 4 teens committed suicide (story link).  Our military is seeing high rates of suicide and efforts at preventing this are not successful.  We need to step forward as community members and talk about this, help others and support people in healing.

If you would like more information about Restorative Response Circles or volunteering at SCVRJP please contact the SCVRJP.  (715)425-1100 or scvrjpinfo@gmail.com.

Keeping Restorative Justice, R-E-S-T-O-R-A-T-I-V-E Justice.

In the recent issue of WisKids Journal published by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF)an article was titled:  Restorative Justice Light –  Something to Think About for RJ Programs (link to article).

One of the WCCF projects is Justice for WI Youth, the project staff person is Jim Moeser, and he authored the article.

I would recommend that you read it.  After I read it, I emailed Jim, thanking him for his perspective and input.  I try to stay away from frustrating things in my life.  I get frustrated when the label “restorative justice” is placed on any package that is an alternative to the formal system.  I believe we need to advocate for what it is we do.

R-respect, the basis for all RJ work.  You have to know who Howard Zehr is, and he provided great illustrations in the Little Book of Restorative Justice, a must read for all professionals in the field or those utilizing restorative services.

E-empathy.  It extends to victims, offenders AND community members.  It is a value you role model, teach, encourage and use to guide transformation.

S-solutions.  RJ addresses the social and emotional aspects of crime, it gives people a place to identify what is needed to make things right.

T-trust.  RJ is not an easy process.  You should never stop trying to learn this art & science and trust the framework provided.  Trust people to find their own healing and respect their journey.

O-optimistic.  When I first hear about people and values, it keeps my optimistic.  Keeping a view that people are good and that systems can change is important to stay on track as a restorative practitioner.

R-research.  We owe it to the movement and to ourselves to utilize the results of research.  A recent example: http://concord.patch.com/articles/restorative-justice-circle-gets-nod-from-cops.  I plan to send the article and a reminder that SCVRJP will take referrals from law enforcement. 

A-accountability.  This morning it just flew out of my mouth “you have to do accountability with a soft hand”.  I was talking about facilitating a Circle.  Holding people’s hearts and humanity about what they did, takes a special skill set.  A closed heart, like a closed parachute does no good.  Opening up your heart and realizing what you have done, and then being accountable, by DOING something to repair the harm, makes a difference.  I love accountable victims, the ones that seek and participate in Restorative Justice, helping the community by preventing further re-offending.

T-time.  RJ is not a quick fix.  It takes time to heal.

I-intuitive.  Restorative Justice work, goes by the gut.  I can’t completely explain how to monitor emotional climate in circles, I just ‘know’ the work requires you to listen to yourself.

V-victim initiated.  Those two words are simple, yet can be tricky.  A victim was asking for RJ to lift a no-contact order.  RJ is not to be done to assist offenders, we delicately worked around this one.  Victims NEED and MUST be at the heart of all restorative justice work.

E-everyone.  Inclusive process is key.  Engage the people impacted by the conflict or crime you are addressing, restorative-ly.  As Jim indicated in his article, considering the Victim, Community AND Offender is RJ.