Restorative Justice Circles create connections, effortlessly.

The feeling at the end of the Circle was explained as having a sense of “did I meet you before”?  I loved that, and I got it right away.  When you meet someone and realize you have shared values, common perspectives and a sense of safety, you feel a bond, a kinship.

Someone I think a lot of, and we think alike, offered “maybe we were Sisters, in a past life”.  I like that explanation as well, it really sums up that maybe our connection is something bigger and beyond the reality we can see, hear and feel right now.

I have to carefully navigate confidentiality here.  Something is in the news lately, and a few years ago, someone in Circle talked about being impacted by that situation.  Everyt ime I hear the news, I think back to this person, because of the shared Circle experience.  I feel more connected to the situation because I heard it from someone directly.  When you see eye ball to eye ball, and you hear right from someone’s mouth, you connect to it, because you witness it.

I believe Circles impact us biologically.  Our brains fire off good chemicals, we relax, our breathing slows down because we feel safe.  Our compassion and caring DNA gets to activate, depending on how much nurturing we had as a child.  The activity of connection, sharing and growing together leaves us different from when we start the process.  The creation of connections are effortless with Circle.

As a keeper of the process, lay the foundation, set the table, be in tune to the overall philosophy and hold it closely.  I planned an agenda, prepared a powerpoint and had a day-long training session ready to go.  A comment about my Circle center “mat” which is a crocheted doily, just came of out.

Image from:

I shared how a neighborhood Circle used a similar item, and someone in the Circle shared that if just one yarn breaks the whole piece will come unraveled.  Our communities should be the same and if we lose just one child, our community is unraveling.  I explained that a placemat for the talking pieces also creates something that shows the reverence for them, demonstrating they are special items.  I went on to add how a Circle Center reminds us to stay centered.

It wasn’t part of the agenda, the only part I had really planned was to do a Circle with the group.  In setting up the Circle I told a story, and stories help us connect to each other.  It was a brief offered opportunity, I didn’t get long winded (well from my perspective anyway), I stuck to the relevant and important facts.  That’s the effortless part.

When you can learn to speak, as if you are in Circle – picking the wise-est words, speaking from the heart, with positive intentions for others, how can people not connect.  Practice Restorative Justice principles and the connections to each other will be effortless.  Effortlessly building connections means people can learn more from each other and open themselves up to the places that need healing.  Someone you never met, can suddenly feel like someone you know.

Restorative Justice Resources – Minnesota Restorative Services Coalition

I put together a quick page for today’s summit and I am sharing that here:


Talking &
Teaching RJ:


IIRP –join the list serve, data
base of articles

Restorative Justice On-line –

Power-point overview, excellent and extensive data base of articles

UK, site – Restorative Justice
videos – powerful, best practice information

Colorado group – RJ in

Illinois BARJ –     Sally Wolf, promoting restorative
practices, more Illinois, interviews:


See Harold Gatensby A Healing
River –

Youth Testimony:

“example” Radio Interview:

Dennis Maloney:


Living Justice Press


U of MN:



National Conference:,com_frontpage/Itemid,58/

Other videos:


Linda White:


Howard Zehr:


True or False?
Howard Zehr and Kris Miner quoted in Glamour Magazine?


U.K. Ministry of
Justice Report Finds Restorative Justice Conferencing Reduces Reoffending an
Average of 27 Percent, Satisfies Victims and Saves Money


Juveniles convicted
of property crimes in Northumbria, U.K. (Sherman et al., 2006)

12% recidivism after
restorative justice process used with youths

68% recidivism when
only processed through the court


Youths convicted of
public order crimes in Indianapolis (McGarrell et al., 2000)

Restorative justice
had half the recidivism rate compared to other diversion programs

Their study concluded that in
at least two trials each:

  • RJ reduced recidivism for offenders
    of both violent and property crimes.
  • RJ reduced post-traumatic stress
    symptoms and the desire for revenge for victims.
  • RJ processes were preferred over CJ
    by both victims and offenders.
  • RJ reduced costs when used as
    diversion from CJ.
  • When RJ was an option, two or more
    times as many cases were brought to justice (including cases of robbery and


(1990). Restitution
Recidivism Crime and Justice
Network Newsletter. Oct 1990 – Mar 1991. p7. Dowloaded 20 January 2005.   As Howard Zehr observes at the outset of this
article, a recurrent question about victim offender reconciliation programs
(VORP) programs raises the issue of recidivism. Do offenders who participate in VORP and
make restitution re-offend? Are re-offending or recidivism rates higher, the same, or lower for such
offenders? In response, Zehr reviews findings from a study conducted by Laurie
Ervin and Anne Schneider (found in Criminal Justice,
Restitution, and Reconciliation, ed. Burt Galaway and Joe Hudson, Criminal Justice
Press, 1990). Ervin and Schneider found that restitution programs, especially
when part of well structured VORPs, do appear to reduce recidivism rates by a measurable amount.


The national recidivism
re-arrest rate is 67.5%


The recidivism rate for the program is less
than 10 percent, compared to 30 percent with more traditional programs.

Independent research shows overwhelmingly how
effective RJ can be:   slashes
reoffending rates by up to a half over eight of ten of victims feel that
meeting their offender is a positive experience almost eight of ten would
recommend the process to others.


This contrasts with the traditional justice
system where less than one in three who become crime victims are satisfied with
how they are treated.


Prison Reform Trust’s latest report from the Out
of Trouble campaign finds that 38% of 10 to 17 year olds participating in
Northern Ireland’s restorative justice process in 2006 reoffended within a
year, compared to 71% of those sent to prison that year.


Restorative Justice Circles powered by the strength of vulerability.

The title of this blog post seems like an oxymoron – vulnerability is not usually associated with strength, at least in the first associations of what is typically considered strong.  The first image that appeared in the Google Image search shows a white, male arm, with a large flexed muscle.  Restorative Justice process is about strength of the heart.

Immage from:

Restorative Justice strength is about showing people that accessing your inner strength and wisdom is human.  The kind of strength vulnerability gives, is the strength earned from growing and healing from tough places, situations, experiences. (harmer/offender)

Sometimes you put yourself in the path and cause the harm.  Sometime life and people around you create circumstances that require you to address your healing.  (harmed/victim)
A key aspect of Restorative Justice work, is the view that people are capable of change.  Restorative Justice framework fosters healing experiences.  The intentions and actions of a Circle-keeper or facilitator need to be consistent in treating everyone fairly, with respect and with the belief that healing is possible.  Here is a link, to an earlier blog, related to creating a healing experience.
Some Circles quickly and effortlessly move to a place of deep sharing.  This is usually related to the first person becoming vulnerable, by sharing with the Circle and opening up.  This vulnerability is picked up and others open up.  When people open up and talk differently to each other that they do in everyday life, magic happens.
Did you know that “fuck you” could be used in a sentence and it would be a compliment?  Neither did I, until a young man was talking about “judging others”.  He was having a strong and connected experience with the Circle.  He used an example from our relationship.
“. . . ya, like when I met Kris, I thought, oh authority figure.  Fuck you.  It turns out your really nice, it’s like you actually care. . .”
I don’t know why, admitting what you thought before – and what you think now isn’t more central to our conversations.  To admit you were wrong is usually seen as that vulnerability.  However, great strength lies in sharing what we have learned with others.
Another big, flexed muscle of strength in Restorative Justice is the power of relating to values.  For some reason, some people have learned that it is NOT okay to trust others.  We have learned that respect must be earned, rather than be deserved.  By creating a safe space, focused on relationship values, you can bring people to a conversation level that reaches our SCVRJP motto:  Change of behavior by a change of heart.  (I also add in Restorative Justice Circle process, a talking piece, open and closing, etc ).  The power in a Circle can leave you feeling like you just had an energy drink – as shared with a recent Circle.  I have heard the reflection that the Circle was like having a really good slumber party.  You can leave changed and leave others changed from a Restorative Justice Circle experience.  Use the strength and leverage of values and connection.

Elements of attitude, for effective Circle-keeping.

Elements of attitude . . .

. . . for effective Circle-keeping


  • We above me.  Carefully consider that you are leading a group process.  Pay attention to the social and emotional climate of all members in the group.  Put aside your needs, and focus on the needs of the collective.
  • Inclusiveness.  Think beyond those in the room, consider that all viewpoints should be respected.  Please don’t speak harshly about anyone or any version of reality.  If you want to build trust and have people confide in you, be respectful to all.
  • Wholeness.  The Circle is not the keeper’s time to process experiences.  You share from a place that you are okay, not from a place of needing help.  Acknowledge and believe in the good and wholeness of others.  Do the best you can to create space where acceptance and healing can flourish.
  • Respect for all.  Consider your language and the words you use.  Encourage the best in others, avoid negativity, tread lightly in your speech and actions, be gentle.
  • Equality.  As keeper, you are guiding the process, the process is about everyone, be equal in how you guide the group.   Just as wheel spins better balance, so does a Circle.
  • Role Model Restorative efforts.  Promote equal worth, demonstrate that wrongs are opportunities for right, allow and encourage growth.  Speak about things and tell stories from this perspective.
  • Know your stuff, don’t pretend to know more.  Really doing restorative justice takes practice and intention.  The concepts and values are good things, and similar to ways we interact, heal, grow and learn.  The approach is humanistic, and makes a lot of sense.   The philosophy and approach can resonate with many things, however, specific elements create RESTORATIVE JUSTICE.  Please don’t water down and assign Restorative Justice to practices that do not apply.
  • Be humble.  Remember that you are just a grain of sand on the beach of life.  If you touch a life, let it be for good.

Over vacation I finally finished reading Restoring Justice An Introduction to Restorative Justice, 4th Edition by Dan Van Ness and Karen Heetderks Strong.  I’ve read numerous RJ books and articles, and I had started and stopped, referenced different parts of this text many times.  Finally start to finish.  For a practitioner that gets to do this stuff 5 days a week and sometimes 7, it was STILL good to review.  I encourage study, study, study of the process to really have a grasp on what constitutes and creates RJ.

For a refresher the RJOB Intro slide show.  Let your knowledge influence your attitude.  Bring a restorative attitude to Circle-keeping and you will bring about the restorative justice experience.

“With liberty and justice for all”, care and connect with community members.

As a Rotary Club, we say the pledge of allegiance.  As we stated the end, “with liberty and justice for all” I thought about these words together, “liberty” and “justice”.  I thought about if “for all”, really means, “for all”.  You have to excuse my perspective, it’s  a little biased towards restorative justice.  Sometimes I see shortcomings in the criminal justice system and the focus on the offender.  The innocent until proven guilty, functioning seems to leave out the voice of the victim and the community.  I watched a lot of TV recently, the 9-11 memorial ceremony and the programs dedicated to people telling their stories.  I thought of Restorative Justice throughout this.  I saw the value of storytelling, I saw the power of the human spirit.  I wonder if “liberty” and “justice” can ever be restored after such a tragic loss.  When I am left with more questions, than answers, I get busy.

Locally, SCVRJP is working on volunteer structure and providing our community members with experiences that enhance and promote their personal growth.  I focus on restorative outcomes for all three, victim, offender and community members.  The outcomes are restored connections, increased empathy and improved self-worth.  Our training structure has been defined in writing with this most recent Volunteer_Training_Structure.

To support this, SCVRJP has the following Fall Trainings Scheduled: Fall Training sessions.

Running a really Restorative Justice program can be a challenge.  All non-profits face challenges and concerns.  On any given day there can be financial concerns, marketing concerns, staff concerns, volunteer concerns, board concerns and service delivery concerns.  What never concerns me, is the reward or impact for doing this work.  To see tears streaming down the face of a young person, sooooooo remorseful and knowing the direct victim is with us, expereince this is a reward.  To hear “I forgive you” and “you are welcome in my store” is a reward that really, good, decent people exist.  By building up our volunteer skills and providing them with competencies and skills for doing better Restorative Justice, our entire community will benefit.  By staying true to what is really restorative justice and teaching others to be solid in that philosophy, we can all benefit from the rewards available.