This article:  Restorative Justice and Social Work links the core values of social workers to Restorative Justice Practice.

It is from 2002, but I really appreciate how well written it is. 

I used to work for Amicus, and it makes me proud the author lists it as an impressive program.

I found this gem on a website I have been spending a lot of time on:  You should check it out!  Best Practices, stories, research!

Corporate world, workplace discrimination responses mirror Restorative Justice.

Today is the day.  I knew studying for my PhD would weave into the blog.  Here it is a post with a reference.  I held out for over 3 months, I didn’t want to change the “voice” of Circlespace.  However, I ran into something to good, to not share.

I was reading TARGET PRACTICE: AN ORGANIZATIONAL IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT APPROACH TO ATTRACTING MINORITY AND FEMALE JOB APPLICANTS.  The article was speaking about how companies/corporations can use 6 tactics to restore a damaged reputation.  The first of those 6, is “accounts”, there are then 4 ways to respond to accounts.  The options are 1) Denial, 2) Excuses, 3) Justification and 4) Apology.  The article said that the most common, is denial.  Acknowledging is more favorably received and apologies and explanations work to re-establish cooperation and promote (improve) positive reactions.

My restorative justice bells and whistles went off!

How often do people who have caused harm try “it wasn’t me”, or “I didn’t do it”.  Our legal system promotes a not-guilty plea as part of the process.  I believe the fear of getting in trouble, trumps telling the truth.  If you don’t feel safe enough, or your fear of the punishment is too great, you aren’t likely to even acknowledge a mistake, let alone a harm.  Not acknowledging, is the same as denial.  Intentional or unintentional, denial is denial in the eyes of others. 

The next two responses Excuses & Justification – are things a restorative practioner works on with the party that has caused harm.  You want to make sure that you hear, what, how and why the excuses and justification developed.  A good restorative justice practitioner can dig into the situation, explore the beginning the middle and the end.  You have to come from a mindset that all behavior has purpose, and what was the purpose of the behavior.  You carefully hold non-judgement on this information.  Once heard people can usually go to the next step, and the next step is the first step of restorative justice accountability: Acknowledging you caused the harm.

I believe people find justifications for behavior.  Once you get at the underlying “justification” you can help people change their lives.  Here is an example and how SCVRJP uses Circles to change behavior. 

Justification:  All college students drink hard, I’m no different than anyone else.

Reality:  Over consumption can have serious risks/harms to self, family, society. 

Demonstrated change:  95% said the session would reduce exposure to risk of alcohol (5% said probably not, 70% said definitely, 25% said maybe)

90% said they would change (60% definitely, 30% maybe) and those that reported the session would “probably not” change behavior: 10% .

Restorative Justice Circles create a safe place to acknowledge harm.  It does help that those attended , have been sent to us by the courts, it is kind of hard to deny something after that process.  The use of community members, storytelling and real life examples hits the heart and promotes change.  You can’t argue with an experience.

Perhaps more companies will step towards workplace restorative justice, so people can get to more productive and healthy environments.  Handling “accounts” with denial, excuses & justifications aren’t the only options.  (I left out apology on purpose, since it is not a primary focus of RJ).   If  Restorative Justice can promote change for underage drinkers, I think it can restore corporate world reputation issues.



Restorative Justice in Schools, further reading resources!

The newest item published for school based restorative justice:

I would also recommend:

Taking Restorative Justice to Schools; A Doorway to Discipline by Jeanette Holthum

Restoring Safe School Communities a whole school approach to bullying, violence and alienation by Brenda

Restorative Circles in Schools Building Community and Enhancing Learning by Bob Costello, Joshua Wachel
& Ted Wachtel

The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Judy H. Mullet

JustSchools: A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice by Belinda Hopkins – Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support – WI Department of Public Instruction Safe and Respectful Schools

I really enjoy training teachers and helping schools implement Restorative Justice.  Facilitating the process is a skill, it requires practice and time to develop the habits.  There is a shift that needs to take place within the restorative justice practitioner.  You have to recognize the limits of punishment and the value of inclusiveness.  Be willing to try it and evaluate it for yourself.  You will find, time spent will help you move from IQ, to EQ to SQ!

What are all these Q’s?  Check this out!

I’m on a stay-cation, so I will be blogging briefly!  To avoid completely “failing” at not working!  Hope the resources help!

4 “inner” tools to do effective Restorative Justice Circle work.

We only know what we know and we can only do what we can do.  What we know and do translates to how we think and act (our behavior).

In a culture of safety, built by the values and structure of the talking piece, we can have new experiences of relating to one another.  A story told in this container, is transformative.  Psychology Today post, on how storytelling brings us together, our brains literally “sync up”.  To get people to a new way on “knowing” and “doing”.

How do you create these kinds of experiences?

I beleive it has a great deal to do with the work BEFORE the Circle, as much as the beginning of the Circle.

Tool 1 – Yourself.  Spend time thinking and learning about how you feel about power.  What do you need to leave behind to embrace, really, really embrace equality and sit in Circle with people.  A “hey we are all equal” mindset removes performance anxiety, equality with different roles, the keeper is guiding the process.  Guiding people to all be Keepers in the Circle, keeper means you care about the outcome for all above the outcome for one.

Self examine your actions in relation to power.  Sitting at the head of the table, is a power position.  Sitting in a chair that is higher up in elevation, standing outside the Circle or standing up when not necessary is a power position.  How do you hold your personal energy when Circle-keeping, it can influence the process.

Tool 2 – Preparation.  Take a moment to center yourself before you keep a Circle.  Kay Pranis and the book Peacemaking Circles, recommends this.  Even one deep sigh, to let go of you, clear the space in you, and remember it is the Circle.

The opening introduction you do is very important.  Find your paragraph, your elevator speech, the comfort of your words to explain restorative justice and Circles.  Consider your audience.  Ask a friend or partner to listen, practice it alone in the car.  Gedi master this part!

The way you set it up is a big responsibility, it sets the tone.  Think of setting a table, you put out the tablecloth, the lines, the silverware, the center piece.  Lay the foundation for the philosophy, explain the ideas and concepts.  Explain the structure and tools.

Tool 3 – Values.  We don’t talk a great deal about values, introducing the concept can be tricky.  I teach a back door method of thinking about a person you are close with, then identifying the value.  (I know I have more detailed blog posts on this).  Going straight at it, I think we get “social mask” answers.  By going at it by a relationship, you get real life examples.  It can be hard to explain this, practice is needed here.

Tool 4 – Growth.  Ask for feedback and input.  Circle keeping, done well, leaves everyone in the Circle, including you different.  Practice this by bringing your whole heart to the Circles you sit in on.  Get in Circle by creating them, or attending them.  Find space to practice your habits and the gifts of the Circle will be in your hands and heart.

Restorative Justice Circles, congruent with evidence-based trauma support treatments.

The training title:

Understanding and Treating Traumatized Youth: An Integrated, Evidence-Based Approach

 The training was provided by Cross Country Education (

We learned that trauma treatment has 3 phases (originated by Judith Herman).  The first phase is Safety & Stabilization.  One technique was to use the senses to calm and ground, touch, for example was giving the young person something to hold, squishy, cold, prickly.

I immediately thought of the safety established in Circle, and how some students gravitate to the squishy, playful talking pieces.  Safety is when the enviroment is free from threats.  Circles ground us with an opening, and predictability.  We know how this works, it is structured with a talking piece, and the guidelines/values for how we will relate.  Everyone makes a committment to those values.  We know people will be trying to do their best.

I realized that the squishy ball, the playful talking pieces work as well as any.  Sometimes we have fun, stretching and shaking the green fringe ball other times, you forget the person is even holding a toy.  You forget because you are so drawn into the sharing.  Youth consistently out share, what adults would have expected.  If that adult is unfamiliar with Circle.  Even in all the Circles I have been part of, sometimes I am amazed at the disclosure.

This ties into the 2nd evidence based strategy congruent with Restorative Justice, storytelling.  We learned how storytelling helps move the trauma in your brain.  From non-language reptilian center, to the cortex area that includes language. 

I have an ego and I was enjoying the training because it was reinforcing.  The day before I was telling a speaker about his amygdala, being the shape of almonds!  He said mine might be almonds, but his are peas!  We shared a laugh, but he understood my explanation of sharing his story. 

In 2009 trainer Frida Rundell, Ph.D. gave us almonds, and explained our amygdala and I STILL have those very almonds!  I was at the IIRP conference and the session was sharing how restorative justice changes the brain!  I thought about “change of behavior, by a change of brain“!  I’ve stuck with change of heart!

Did you know trauma can make our DNA express itself differently?  It is called epigenetic changes.  Scientists stressed a pregnant rat enough that her pups were born with gray fur (instead of white).  I think about the trauma of domestic violence.  I am motivated to try to bring the healing components of restorative justice to survivors.

I am also a bit skeptical about all this pressure and emphasis on “evidence-based”.  Common sense should prevail.  We don’t have “evidence” of a higher power – however we know that can have a huge impact on people.  Can we create studies that help us?  I think yes.  Can we generalize that what evidence worked in New York City will work in Africa, just because it is “evidence-based”?  It frustrates me.

We put all this stock in the evidence.  The DSM (diagnostic Statistical Manual) is THE book, that gives you the criteria for mental health.  The book has a V -code for Bereavement – apparently if it lasts more than 2 months, you have a problem.  Really?  I mean really?  It seems to me we all know, it takes more than 2 months.  I get that people develop symptoms that become issues.  My point is that we all KNOW it takes more than 2 months.  If we rely exclusively on evidence based, we dismiss our common sense, our hard-earned professional wisdom and we aren’t helping each other as humans.  I prefer the model blogged on here.

A “do not miss” training opportunity! Restorative Justice addressing bully behavior.

My friend Nancy has been hosting week-long sessions in school-based Restorative Justice/Restorative Measures.  I have helped her out the last few years.  The finale of the week is the Circle Networking Day, she fwd’d me this information today:

The Circle Networking Day
Bullying: Preparation for the Restorative Response
June 17, 2011, Webster School in Minneapolis. The Circle Networking Day is open to all June Seminar alumni and restorative justice practitioners interested in restorative applications in schools and youth settings. Circle Keepers: Kay Pranis and Mel Buckholtz.
Please register at this link: The registration fee is $25.
Bullying and cyber bullying is in the news and in legislative committees. Some districts are responding to bullying with zero tolerance policies, however, the US Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control recommend a more comprehensive approach:  formative discipline and school, family and community strategies. 
Well prepared restorative practices can help to ensure family engagement, community involvement and offender, victim and bystander contribution in a process that is formative and non-punitive. The question for the Circle Networking Day is “What is ‘well prepared’?”  
Mary Thissen-Milder, State HIV Prevention Coordinator, Hassan Samantar from PACER, Mary Ticiu, Assistant Principal at Stillwater High School,  and Olaseeni Soewu, Mediation Center International (Logos, Nigeria)  will offer their perspectives on bullying interventions in schools. Nancy Riestenberg will present an overview of Bullying in Minnesota Schools: An analysis of the Minnesota Student Survey, 2010.  Everyone who attends will also provide insight. Except for the brief overview of the MSS study, the discussions will be held in Circle. 
The Minnesota Department of Education will summarize the discussion in a written brief. Join us June 17!
Contact Nancy Riestenberg, 651-582-8433, for more information.
The Circle Networking Day is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Education, the Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minnesota Restorative Services Coalition.

Circles include earned and learned wisdom, formal and informal support.

There are two ways we get smart about things – we experience it or we take someone else’s story and decide to do it, or not do it.

When we are seating in Restorative Justice Circles, we take time to listen.  We listen like sponges.  It just happens that way.  The values have been determined and used as our “way” of relating to each other.  We speak one at a time, we share perspective by perspective.  Just as each second on a clock happens from a different place, so do the stories shared in Circle.  Just as the commonality of time passing happens with each second that clicks off a clock, the stories have a commonality of being human.

Teaching people to listen without judgement is crucial to a Circle.  Giving people the permission, to not have to react to what is being said helps.  The communication loop is person-to-center, instead of person-to-person.  We observe the loop or relationship a person is sharing.  Without judgement we “hear” that person’s earned experience.

Once you “earn” your paycheck you have it.  You “earn” your experience.  Just like you can blow that paycheck, have it be gone with no investment in the future, you can blow your experience and not invest it in the future.

Talking about our “earned” experiences in front of each other allows others to learn from them.

One of our volunteers relates his life that includes going in and out of prison.  Being high a week after being out.  How crime was needed to fuel the need for more drugs.  This story is shared as part of a larger program addressing controlled substance use.  It works.

It works, because we care.  We listen first and teach second.  We let the person in the session be heard and participate in Circle.  We all add a value to the Center.  We all hold the potential to add value to our communities.  Restorative Justice does this like nothing else I have ever experienced.

Formal support comes from people paid to do what they do.  Informal support is people who act because they care.  Think about that from your pizza delivery and the friend that made you soup.  The airport shuttle ride or the friend that gives you a lift.  Formal support is a therapist, informal support is a great conversation with a close friend.

We all know someone who can be a great therapist, hair stylist or store clerk, because they care.  It’s kind of like that with SCVRJP, and I hope all restorative justice programs.  The use of volunteers, bring in people just cause they care.  As a non-profit, we are less funded (more like a friend, not getting paid for that ride to the airport).  We address the areas that the community needs, vs what the government decides we need.

I’ve read that you need both good formal support and strong informal support to reduce symptoms of PTSD.  I always to apply what I read in academic research to my life.  Makes sense to me, fits for the times in my life I struggled.

We are relationship creatures.  I so appreciate that restorative justice can bring our relationship to our experiences to others.  Restorative Justice also brings relationships to people formally or informally, and that just helps us all grow.

Coming together to share school-based Restorative Justice.

Colorado schools promote restorative justice with a school summit.

The full article highlights aspects of the youth-led restorative justice work happening in Colorado schools.  More evidence rolls in on using the philosophy and approach to build community and respond to harm in a way that does not exclude students or interupt academics.

The power of relationships is at the heart of restorative work.  I recently posted a Facebook update, mentioning I was in a bad mood.

A response was posted:  “Does it help to know that whenever I have a day like that at school, I run a circle in my classroom the next day.”  I was happy to hear that and then this was posted: “My relationships with my students are fabulous this year – and a lot of that comes from circles. Thank you Kris!”

That did improve my mood.  The response came from someone 1,000 miles and 5 states away.  We met 6 months ago when I was in her school providing training for the school and staff to implement Restorative Justice and Circles.

The brief comments on my Facebook wall, speak to the effectiveness and power of Circles.  The benefits for students are obvious when we retain them in school and help with their sense of belonging.  Research by the International Institute of Restorative Practices ( revealed how these approaches help staff.

I’m excited and cautious to see the youth-led initiative.  It is complex to hold the philosophical approach of restorative justice and merge that with process.  Our youth today, are faced with challenges and skills that I can’t understand at 42 years old.  My biggest fear is that the youth-“leaders” and “facilitators” will be set apart from the “participants”.  I am all about promoting equality and it’s not always easy.

I was looking at a Circle of college students, I saw some skeptical looks and confusion.  It was the first day of class and after a year off, the word about my teaching style hadn’t reached this group.  I asked the group to keep an open mind.  I reminded them that they grew up in an enviornment of getting stars for doing good and detentions for doing bad.   I explained that it would take sometime to understand how to hold people accountable without using exclusion or punitive responses.

Congratulations to the Colorado school community and the group from New Orleans, I am confident your efforts will change lives!

If you are interested in contracting with St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program to provide on-site school trainings, please contact me at the office 715-425-1100.  SCVRJP also offers on-site training.

School-based Restorative Justice is PBIS (positive behavioral interventions & supports)

This website has an informative video on PBIS.  They use a triangle and what I have known and taught as a public health model, primary, secondary, tertiary or universal, selected and indicated.  For years, I’ve been teaching the use of restorative justice classroom circles – to address all students.  I’ve been teaching these three categories in workshops and trainings.

In my trainings with teachers I would engage the audience by asking for a volunteer, I would offer that the audience could help “volunteer” people.  I asked for the “universal student” the one that teachers did not have to worry about the “rule” follower.  That person came to the front of my presentation area.

I then asked for another volunteer, the “at-risk” student.  The one who you knew was on the edge.  Maybe things at home weren’t 100% or this student challenged the rules.  The audience would call out a co-worker and send them up.

Finally I asked for the person to represent the student that got in trouble.  The audience was usually more comfortable and sent forward a staff with laughs.

I’ve done this will lots of groups.  I use the three standing at the front of the room as props.  I ask audience about seeing themselves in all three people, all three levels (primary, secondary, tertiary) or (universal, selected and indicated).

I take people by the elbow and move them around.  I demonstrate when we take the student who caused harm out of the classroom or school.  Remove them without communication to the other two, we make the climate, less trustworthy.  I ask the group, of those that were harmed by this student, who were they.  The teachers/audience can see if was probably one of the other two students.

I show how school-based restorative justice helps give voice to the victim, the bystanders and helps them ALL be involved in the problem-solving, conflict resolution.  Giving students the chance to explain to each other how they see positive behaviors and how students themselves can benefit from a peaceful school climate.

I have studied shapes for years now.  I like how this triangle demonstrates the three groupings.  I have also learned that the triangle can represent power.  Even though the top of the triangle is 1-5% is that the group with “power” in our schools.  If you consider “power” being influence over others.  How much time do we spend responding when there is a seriously violent incident?

My heart went out to the community in Marinette, WI after a student held classmates hostage and killed himself. (Summary article).  I could only think how if we address the needs of victims, we could prevent these types of incidents.

It seems the person who is hurt, eventually will retaliate with a perceived justification to right earlier wrongs.

I see School-based Restorative Justice as very efficient, PBIS and I know schools around the nation are being pushed to implement these strategies.  The website PBIS.ORG, is full of helpful presentations and I see restorative justice as part of every item I reviewed.

Different views of Restorative Justice, great food for Thanksgiving.

Food for thought, it’s almost Thanksgiving!

This video gives deeper explanation of Restorative Justice and it defines some different perspectives and angles.

I myself have always viewed it as a continuum or two – high encounter or high repairation.  I like about 9 minutes in, the discussion highlighted with Dan VanNess, that the discussion being open, is a very positive thing.

EDIT:  Gerry Johnstone, a prof from Hull University in England is doing the interview, he mentions a conversation with Dan VanNess.

Just following that, there is a valuable piece of discussion about the importance of the process to be self-influenced, or shaped by the participants.  That is also very important.

What do you think after viewing this: