Doing restorative justice delicately, deliberately and with dedication.

I have the very good fortune of having a champion of Restorative Justice as a friend and mentor.  Kay Pranis was the Minnesota Restorative Justice Planner.  She’s seen so much in the field, she’s traveled the world teaching and training.  She’s Kay_Pranis2published books, journal articles, and well, she’s a voice of authority to me regardless.  It is her quality of a person, her calm nature, her wisdom to guide my reflections, thoughts, questions.  This quote, reminds me of Kay:

When you meet a being who is centered – you know it – you always feel a kind of calm emanation, it always touches you in that place where you feel calm.

The things we explore bring us back to key concepts, best practice, ethical efforts.  As practitioners of Restorative Justice, I think being delicate, deliberate and dedicated as I have experienced Kay, and tried to be myself, is helpful.

Being delicate.  Holding offenders accountable, while holding and creating a strong relationships.  Relationships, respect, responsiblity the key pillars of Restorative Justice, can’t me created with force.  Check out this link, at 2:30, the segment is promoting OWN Chalkboard Wars.  I love how Gayle King puts it “if kids don’t think you care, they don’t care what you think”.  Circles are the most powerful and effective ways to show kids you care, and to teach kids a way to care about each other.

One of the most important things to teach, when teaching people about Restorative Justice Circles, is structured silence.  AND doing this has to be both delicate and deliberate.  When you role model vs direct, inform, tell people how to behave, you have them learn for themselves.  This takes a deliberate and dedicated embrace of equality.  There are skills, activities, techniques, to bring youth in Circle to the respect of listening one at a time.  This is where empathy develops, an equal exchange and balance of voices in the room.

Being dedicated to Restorative Justice, means avoiding shortcuts, or developing routines, it means continuous exploration of the meaning and purpose of Restorative Justice values.  Each case is unique and should be treated as such. For example, victims should be given the choice of being seated in the room, or walking in the room where the person who caused harm is seated. All sorts of responses from this evolve, however the CHOICE is empowering.  Question yourself, discuss with a mentor.

Being delicate, deliberate and dedicated doesn’t mean without strength.  One teacher, who uses Circle soooo effectively, kept a Circle for students (she’s a pro, doing at least 2 a day in her classroom).  A co-worker, new to the process, experienced a Circle with her, and when it was done, the new coworker said “WOW, I didn’t know you were so powerful”, the teacher: “it’s not me, it is the Circle”.

Where are you most delicate?  Where could you be more so?  What are you very deliberate about, what could you do more intentionally?  Thinking of these questions, will show your dedication to effective Restorative Justice practice.

As a Restorative Justice nonprofit, volunteer development is key!

One of the elements St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program (SCVRJP) provides is volunteer in-service opportunities.  This was designed to provide on-going training to volunteers.  Session volunteering is always focused on providing the service.  The volunteer in-service is a time and place for volunteers to build relationships with each other, with SCVRJP staff and with the concepts and philosophy of Restorative Justice.

In-service topics have included having guests from a neighboring program share their experiences.  SCVRJP held an in-service on brain-based change, showing volunteers and the public connections between evidence based practices and Restorative Justice.  Tonight we will be watching a film called Room to Breathe.  In-service sessions are worked within our busy schedule, and provide alternative times for people to be part of our program.  We usually have a dozen of our 50-70 volunteers attend these offerings.  We promote these as “open to the public” hoping to engage people by topic, that might then become volunteers.

Holding these sessions is another way for SCVRJP to deliver on the stakeholder triad of Restorative Justice (victim, offender, community).  This wonderful graphic from IIRP:

rjtypologyThe graphic shows “communities of care reconciliation”, at SCVRJP, we consider everyone within our geopgraphy part of our community.  SCVRJP reaches out to share what we do with the public by engaging social groups, faith-based organizations and offering training and in-service sessions.

Board members are volunteers, another structure of SCVRJP is to have board members attend sessions.  This provides an element of “quality control” and guarantees SCVRJP leadership is in close contact to what we do.  Historically, not that long a go, when SCVRJP was very new, board members also facilitated sessions.  Smaller or new Restorative Justice programs may still be in that same position.  As you grow, it is still helpful to have board members participate in what you do.  Asking a board member to attend one session outside of the regular board meetings is enough to keep the entire board engaged.

A SCVRJP board member, explained how helpful attending an in-service session was.  It was the expectation that board members attend sessions, that led to a board member in a volunteer in-service session.

Development is learning over time.  Volunteer development, allows your volunteers to develop as your program develops.  What we hear, can greatly be influenced by what we already know.  Sometimes what we think is a truth in the morning we can learn by sunset is no longer true.  Myths begin with slight mis-communications.  At SCVRJP we offer half a dozen different programs, and volunteers might assume what they know about one session, applies to all.  That isn’t accurate, and one victim-offender dialogue could have different nuances than another.  It is important to have a consistent message on what your program is doing, key concepts, core philosophical approaches and a pulse on your programs ambassadors to the public, your volunteers.  A volunteer in-service session gives time to clarify these questions or myths that might develop.

Managing a business or a non-profit requires juggling multiple roles and responsibilities.  I’ve used it so much I don’t know where I found it, but I have post-it notes and listed these 5 in lots of places.  Priorities for successful non-profits: 1)Service Delivery 2)Outcome Measures 3)Financial management system 4)Fundraising plan 5)Demonstrate impact, capacity and sustainability.  Taking the time to care, connect and develop volunteers helps move an agency to success or maintain the existing success.  Good luck with your program!

Developing Restorative Justice Circle Intuition.

The first step is to gain knowledge, the ‘how to’ of a Restorative Justice Circle.  Then you develop experience, those experiences lend to your understanding and ability to predict what happens.  Pour in some passion, some real care and authenticity to your work and you’ll develop an effective style of Circle Keeping.  That blends to provide Circle intuition.

A few knowledge pieces:

  1. It is good to know, the four stages of Circle.  How to move between the four, and what the philosophical rational is behind each stage.
  2. Members in Circle reflect your relationship.  Build connections as soon as you can with those in Circle.  This can happen in pre-conference (preparation meetings) or as you engage people coming to the session.
  3. Each Circle has something to offer you as a lesson.  The Circle is the power, and in that the wisdom.  Create safety, and people will share.

A bit about passion:

From the website:
From the website:
  1. Being passionate, is bringing your special relationship to Circle/Restorative Justice.  Don’t leave what you find of value about Circles or your own values outside the Circle.
  2. People respond to genuine and authentic individuals, own your passion, and allow others the freedom and space to own theirs.  I was working with an experienced group, I shared that I told a reporter I was a Circle-freak, some else shared being a Circle-addict.  I’ve heard Circle-hog, as an apology for always suggesting Circle.


  1. Nothing substitutes for experience.  You can read about riding a bike, or swimming, nothing like the experience.  It is not just the experience of keeping, the experience of participating in Circle.  Find places to be in Circle.
  2. Watch keepers, develop outlines, find a mentor, ask questions about the style and use of questions and techniques.  An experienced facilitator will make decisions and guide a process for a reason.
  3. Create your own experiences if needed.  I had a teen Circle for my daughter and few others, that was enough to give me two extra experiences a month.  For a short time, I hosted ‘New Moon’ Circles, to give space to talk about values.  Use a Circle demonstration when going to give an explanation of Restorative Justice.

Intuition is developed when you become more natural.  Intuition is the deep inner knowing.  Restorative Justice Circle intuition allows a keeper to move confidently.  Consider the experience of each and every person in Circle.  Seek to balance the needs of each person.  When someone is sharing, observe how that is changing or impacting the emotional climate in the room.

When keepong, you have a general sense and an idea of where the Circle will go, you don’t control the outcomes for each individual.  This balance requires an intuition about Circles.  The more you develop knowledge, passion, experience and intuition, the more you will be invited to keep and the deeper and more effective the Circles will be.

Restorative Justice Circles – the real deal can be done at all health levels.

Public Health levels include promotion, prevention and treatment – primary, secondary, tertiary levels. Restorative Justice Circles work at these levels as well, re-affirm (primary) relationships, rebuild (secondary) relationships and repair (tertiary) relationships, an outcome for every level.

Restorative Justice Circles, can be used at each level and when promoting a culture change, as in a school, they need to be used at all levels.

Once the skills of keeping a “real deal”, Restorative Justice Circle are gained, exploring and finding ways to utilize Circles will be easily obtained and those Circles will be successful.

Each training I do, builds upon earlier training sessions. After 6 years of training,in our community, SCVRJP has successfully implemented Circles. We used to talk as a board of wanting to “embed the philosophy”. The University of Wisconsin, River Falls, has a student position – where the PEACE – PEER EMPOWERMENT & COMMUNITY EDUCATION program, has a Circle-keeper!

This is a monumental and awesome thing! I am feeling proud of the work of SCVRJP and the partnership with the UWRF campus. So I want to promote using Circles effectively!

I mention the “real deal” in my blog title.

Simply using a talking piece, is not a Restorative Justice Circle. Link here for Covey’s definition of a Talking Piece. Restorative Justice Circles, as brought from the Yukon, to the US, based in first nations/indigenous work include: Ceremony (Open/Close), Guidelines (Values), Talking Piece, Consensus, Storytelling, Keeper and the 4 stages of Circle.

There are other Circles – great stuff from the West Coast, Christina Baldwin, PeerSpirit Circles. That style returns the talking piece to the Center, and includes a monitor that would ring a chime or bell to keep on topic. Those two elements are different than a Restorative Justice Circle.

Restorative Circle – work has 3 stages, Restorative Justice Circles, 4 stages. I am not sure if a talking piece is used in the Restorative Circle format. From what I have read the emphasis is on the process, and with Restorative Jusitce Circles, the values and stages are key.

Restorative Justice Circles, the Circles at SCVRJP always include diverse participants, meaning people with different perspectives. Some label needed, a person harmed, a person who caused harm and community perspective. The diversity allows for the exploration and perspectives to come from different places. Solutions to repair the harm can then come from different perspectives.

Keepers in Restorative Justice Circles have to become skilled at neutral language, engaging audiences from different perspectives. I think a way to not being judged is to not be judgemental. I was co-presenting and sharing the stage with another Circle keeper. My co-presenter said “I’m not touchy-feely”, I was smiling because just before that she had been explaining how you move back to easier questions if people start to pass. I call that monitoring the emotional climate of the Circle. It doesn’t matter, if you are touchy-feely or not, what matters is that you have a skill in keeping. Keeping is about safety, and making it safe for people to trust, open up and share. Keeping is also getting people to be safe in silence, in the silence to listen.

A sample Peacemaking Circle process for reflecting and connecting.

Circles have endless applications.  The kinds of Circles I am speaking of (post here) include 4 stages, keeper, consensus, talking peace, center, values.  You can hold circles to build community to resolve conflict.  The outline/script below could be utilized for a range of student ages.  Some suggestions on this included to use culturally relevant and appropriate greetings.  For example a bow, or gesture that does not involve touch.  Here is a resource for keepers:

Introduction of Circle/Keeper

  • Getting students/chaperones/staff settled
  • Set the tone, monitor emotional climate
  • Introduction to Circle process – 4 values on board
  • Listen/Respect/Truth/Turns
    • Listening from the heart, not for agree or disagree/right or wrong
    • Respect,  Quiet Hands & Feet (encouraging mirror behavior)
    • Truth, speaking from the heart, what is true for you – see center perspectives
    • Turns – explain talking piece, both roles important, opportunity to listen, listen together
    • Four values, four stages, different way of communicating, Open & Close any questions?
    • Consensus with Thumbs Up, thumb sideway or thumb down
    • Opening Activity


Opening Activity:  Handshake, Seat Change


Physically – moves students around the Circle.  Interacts students and adults. Increases   oxygen for better brains. Mentally– engages students in remembering the   directions.  Places value of Cirlce in   the mindset.  All participate, all   values Emotionally– may raise anxiety, preparing from something new,   outside a comfort zone.  Increase   belonging and connection. Spiritually– handshake as a “sign of peace”, sense of   belonging, sense of connection.    Non-verbal activity, energy of participants.

Have the Circle stand, explain you will be using the 4 values.

  • Listening to each person greet someone else
  • one at a time, go to someone sitting away from you,
  • Respect-offer hand, introduce yourself, Greeting, trade places, person sits
  • Truth, offering your name and greeting, in a good way for you.
  • As we go around, taking seats after greeting and be greeted, one person will be the “sweep” – and that person will say Good Morning Circle, I’m _____, and we will say Good Morning _______!
  • After the activity, affirm the students for demonstrating the 4 values


  • Set Up the Center – reminding of values, use of talking piece.
  • Collective listening – ring chimes, set silence and stillness
  • What did you find interesting
  • What are you still wondering about


  • Place pictures in Center –
    • Reflection on the pictures – the question with the
    • What would you like to ask the the artist?
    • What did you like most in Circle – one of the 4 values and why or what about it
  • What positive action could come from people learning this exhibit

Closing – Pass a handshake around the Circle – “Thank you for listening”, “Thank you for sharing”


Your grace with sorrow informs your Restorative Justice approach.

The field of Restorative Justice has really grown.  Thank goodness for the communication tools of documentaries, articles, mainstream media.  I can’t wait for a participant to become the next Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey and lend support to the movement!  Recently we’ve seen New York Times Magazine (Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice), Huffington Post (Restorative Justice is NOT Forgiveness), Today Show, and then further webinar discussion with Howard Zehr,  to discuss and refine our skills sets.

There is not 1 standard agreed upon, definition of Restorative Justice, which can make it confusing.  There is not one single specific process.  Many of my older blogs try to offer resources and parameters for Restorative Justice, much specific to Restorative Justice Circles.  In case you’ve missed them, or you are new to the blog, here are the posts that help clarify what RJ looks like:  typology posts, real restorative justice.

My work has been “informed” since 1998, when I was first training in Real Justice, from IIRP (International Institute of Restorative Practices).  In 2002, I was in Circle Training with Kay Pranis, followed by training with Jamie and Oscar, Linda Wolf.  For more of this time of “informed” work, my resume.

The type of “informed” work that influences practitioners, the topic of this blog, comes down to the way we carry our own sorrow.  I think this impacts the manner and approach with we use with victims, offenders, and community members.  From the range of simple to extremely complex cases, our own sorrows (and the grace of which we carry sorrow) comes along to our facilitation experiences.  The experiences we have a facilitator also inform our ability to carry sorrow with grace.

At a meeting of severe crime and violence victim-offender dialogue facilitator, after staffing a facilitator briefly reflected “it is like holding two spirits in your hands”.  I later affirmed her approach, and respect the deep grace she does her work.  Severe crime cases transform you as an individual, you walk along side people, hear deep suffering.  This article about Healing Burnout,  focused on Mindfulness Communication, which includes discussing “being with suffering”.  This way of being with suffering, when you facilitate a process of severe crime, can cause to you need deep self-care, in order to avoid or address burnout.  How we handle these as practitioners informs how we facilitate and handle further cases.

After seeing two young women embrace, one grieving 3 families members, the others grieving the remorse of driving the car that caused the crash that took those three lives.  After the dialogue, before leaving the room, these two hugged.  They embraced in tears and what filled the room was beyond words.  I could feel it, I can hardly speak of it without choking up.  That informed by work, and I saw a forgiveness path chosen by participants.  This experience led me to realize a greater depth of forgiveness.

I recently heard a tape recording of my Mothers voice.  She died in 1988, and the recording was from a family Christmas in the 70’s.  That gift touched my grief and sorrow for my Mother.  I realized the grace needed for people who have lost loved ones, especially due to a criminal act, must learn to carry the sorrow. Carrying our sorrow, in a way that is compassionate, allows us to hold that kind of compassion for others.  When we take our suffering and move that to compassion for our selves and others, we are carrying the energy and potential that Restorative Justice brings.

It is deep work, to help an offender through minimizing, blaming, justifying to get to the heart of behavior.  To do this in a way that maintains the self-worth, and the capacity to be a loving human being, is a skill set.  I believe the skills comes from a spacious heart.  To help victims, with voice, needs, decisions, preparation also takes a grace and a space in our hearts.  Some times the space we use in our hearts is the space carved from our own suffering.