Restorative Justice when offenders don’t want community involved.

How a restorative justice practitioner handles challenges in the preparation stage is very important.  One common challenge is those that caused harm, or their parents, push back against community involvement.  Thanks to the Ministry of Justice, Jamaica for this image:restorative-justice-three-parties

My recommendation so to find out where this resistance is from, try to understand the concern and then offer an appropriate response to move forward.  It is very important is to work through these concerns so those participating fully understand what the Restorative Justice goals are.  There are no shortcuts to doing effective restorative justice Tweet: There are no shortcuts to doing effective restorative justice. @krisminer  These tips are designed to give you tools in your preparation for a successful Restorative Justice dialogue, in a conference or circle setting.

Top 3 reasons those that caused harm are resisting community involvement.

1) They think the process is punitive.  The person resisting the community has shame, and doesn’t want to have others judge them.

2)They might be worried about confidentiality.

3)They might not feel in control, or understand the process is voluntary.

Helpful, restorative responses:

  • Make an apology for your failure to explain things correctly.  Be so assured of the health of having community.
  • Re-explain the philosophy and approach.  Assure community is present to hold positive outcomes.  Some anxiety before is a meeting is normal, it’s because it is so important.
  • Be confident in the role of community, it is not an option for them not to be present.  Do this conversationally, not like you are dictating things.
  • If the person is worried that they know your community mentors, assure them that is a good thing!  That is how community works.
  • Validate the choices made to participate.  When a young woman scoffed at me “I’m only doing this do get out of being suspended”, I calmly responded “oh, Ok, you made the right choice.  Why don’t you want to be suspended?”
  • Assure the concerns by explaining how much volunteers are trained in the process, volunteers have signed confidentiality agreements.  Let them know that they are understanding, and are parents themselves, and every single person has made a mistake.  Reiterate the foundation and roots of restorative justice.
  • Tell a story about a time other people had similar concerns and how the session went very well.
  • Be sure to ask them about their resistance, don’t make assumptions.  If they ask you a question about the volunteers, you don’t need to answer, you can ask another question about why they are needing that information.
  • Maintain a respectful discussion and explore their needs, I’ve found the open honest discussion leads to a willingness to participate.

Other important factors are for you to take care of your volunteers . . . respect them as community holding valuable information and need for involvement.  They have been trained and take the time to participate, don’t exclude them because you put the person who caused harm in charge.  You are the facilitator . . . your job is to prepare people, not to have them prepare conditions.  The facilitator is the one with the most information about the way the process works.  Prepare, prepare, prepare.  If you can’t get consent for community, let the participant know you have to think about how to move ahead.  Ask them to also think about it.

Just as you prepare victims to know their needs, you prepare those harmed to know their fears.  Once they are out on the table they can be addressed.  To move forward and try restorative justice without the community is excluding a KEY and CORE practice.


Blame or Harm? How a surrogate community is helping heal harm.

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program has been serving two counties since 2001.  The area of expertise includes Restorative Justice Circles and working with severe crime.  This stems from a history of Restorative Justice that began in 1998, when I was initially trained in the process.  I facilitate Restorative Justice for serious cases (where there have been fatalities) both locally and for 3 neighboring Counties.  This has brought intersection between the SCVRJP community and those that impacted and those responsible for harm, living in neighboring Counties or outside or specific service area.

Youth from other communities (not those directly served by SCVRJP), often with parents, their own restorative justice provider or juvenile justice professional attend local SCVRJP sessions.  This structure sets up our local community to be the surrogate community for these guests.  Restorative Justice operates from the principles that those harmed (victims), those that caused the harm (offenders) and community are important and necessary to determine how to repair harm.  The power of Restorative Justice Circle process is grounded in the inner good of each person, the focus on relationship values and the respect demonstrated by facing each and taking turns telling our truths.

Most generally we agree we should help young people learn from mistakes.  This can take place as accountability and consequences (juvenile justice system).  Our communities include support systems for behaviors that break the law and put others at risk.  Restorative Justice also operates from a premise that community has a responsibility to teach young people.  One of my mentors says “wisdom that is not shared is lost”.  Circles provide us space to share wisdom.

In my experience, we can be proud of how SCVRJP/Restorative Justice has treated young people that made poor choices.  Young people need recovery as well as accountability after poor choices.  They need affirmed the difference between being a bad person and making a bad decision.  Young people need help off their stomachs and on to their feet.  When you fall down, it’s easier to brush yourself off and move on in a good way, when you have support.  There are opportunities to share wisdom, and wisdom is best heard when it is offered without judgement.

Community Mentors are the volunteers at SCVRJP that participate in Circle to address harm, offer experiences, support and wisdom.  A guest participant experienced the support and immediately wanted to share her story.  The support changed her perspective; the response has helped her and has been powerful to witness by her professional support and family.  It is a powerful transformation from a hometown that denied her job applications, continued to blame her and has left her and her feeling shame and isolation.

Restorative Justice Circles can be shaped around any harm.  My harm is your harm, and your harm is our harm.  That’s a cheesy sentence, but I know when we join together we can heal.  Blame separates and hurts, leaving us isolated in pain.  Sharing harm is not easy, however it is a step in the process of healing.

The power in hearing every voice, and the power of Circle participation.

“I was at a training, about leadership and meetings.  They said something that struck me, and reminded me of Circle.  They said the meeting doesn’t start until every voice is heard.” – spoken in a talking circle.

My immediate thought was about how many meetings I was in that had really never started!  It also validated the idea I bring out as much as possible.  Opening reflective question and end meeting ranking.  The opening question can be a ‘roll call’ type or a reminder about mission.  The meeting ends with everyone ranking the meeting at the end, picked this up from Moving Beyond Icebreakers.

In my experience these two little additions to a meeting, really help.  I feel like I know I will have two places to share, so I don’t have to work my comments.  I think how this relates to other personalities like mine, people who want to say “hello” to every person in a room.

It reminds me of the tradition I am familiar with when attending a Native ceremonies.  You go around give a handshake and say hello or introduce yourself to every person.  You can tell new people, they don’t know or forget to do this.  Its never been talked about, I just know this is how we do this.  I am glad, the ceremony I go to is an ‘Inipi’ Lakota for ‘sweat lodge’.  Glad to meet everyone and be greeted by them.  The ceremony is a real spiritual experience, and its good to know who you are in the company of.

I guess  that aspect, who you are in the company of, could just easily be translated to COMMUNITY.  Community is an important, important concept. 

Last night I had some serious dreams going on.  Worries about Circles that need to happen and some individuals.  I woke up and the dream carried over to an “ah-ha” question I could use in Circle.  A end of the Circle question, after we have acknowledged and worked on repairing the harm.  The question works, because what is SO important is to have clearer expectations of behavior after the Circle.

The question/statement to finish:  I believe my community expects me to . . .

In my dream, a police officer was explaining the point of their role and the community expectations matched the values the officer shared.  Next a young person shared perceptions of what the community wants, he said “I believe my community expects me to f*ck up”  I woke up shortly after this, because in my dream, everyone was mad at me and I couldn’t get them to help the young person.

I laid awake and thought of my own answers. The first,  as a nonprofit direct, my community expects me to . . .

I thought about as a Mom and a girlfriend and then decided Ididn’t like these expectations sometimes.

I will just try out the question in a Circle.  I hope by speaking and listening to the responses, people will have a better idea of who they are in the company of.

Developing belonging as a life skill and a restorative justice skill.

Lets put value on ‘belonging’.

Look at all the books on LOVE.  The efforts at PEACE.  Not to minimize the importance of either of these but what if we learned to make people feel like they BELONG.

What about embracing our own selves, and our own place in our community.

How do we nuture our own belonging.  How do we cultivate the belogning of those around us?

I’ve had my mind occupied with a number of things recently.  Our upcoming fundraiser and several cases.  I’ve found a solace in “spacing out”.  I noticed that driving into work I would stay right behind a car.  Usually I speed past those driving the speed limit.  The third time I found myself doing this, I decided this was a “blogg-able” moment.  I started to self-analyze.  What was the comfort here?  Why was I willing to be car two, instead of speeding ahead to get to my destination?

I decided it was belonging.  Letting someone else be first held safety for me.  I just had to follow.  My task was to keep from tailgaiting.  This slight focus led me to use other parts of my brain for mulling over my life.  I reflected on the protected feeling, and I realized that as well, is an aspect of belonging.

By focusing on belonging – who we are connected to, how we are connected to them, we remember our responsibilities.  I love the Mother Theresa quote about ‘belonging’, and I didn’t like the person who was distant from that concept, I posted on that here.

East Side Arts Council Program
East Side Arts Council Program

A recent discussion included the question of “boundaries” in Restorative Justice.  How do we hold victims close to our hearts and then go work with offenders.  My feedback was that this is a particular skill, and requires focus and being fully present for the person you are with.

It also requires viewing crime/conflict by placing the issue in the center, and detaching the behavior from the person.  I think it also requires us to ‘BELONG” to the problem.  To take some ownership in the crime/conflict and lend our skills to helping with restoration.

As our class watched “Meeting a Killer“, I was thinking about the volunteer facilitator I had in our class as a guest.  We don’t go unchanged as facilitators, and I saw Ellen Halbert, acknowledge the personal impact in the film.  If you haven’t viewed this powerful story that shows the impact of RJ Conferencing you should watch it.

Think about ‘belonging’ and the wonderful concepts of attachment parenting.   I find those concepts consistent with restorative justice.  Taking care of each other increases our sense of committment, our sense of belonging.

I think that belonging is part of community.






“making your communities stronger and helping prevent alcohol & substance abuse”

I mentioned getting a gift basket in yesterday’s post, the title of this post is from the note included in that basket.

“Thank you for your dedication to making your communities stronger and helping prevent alcohol & substance abuse”

You are welcome!  I embrace this thank you!  Because I know it’s true!  Okay I have to make an “i’m not arrogant disclosure here”, I’m not being arrogant it is true. 

See SCVRJP DOES engage community members. 

“stenghten the community” It’s a great prevention mantra and a great goal of many agencies – to be community partners, to be accessed by the community.  Yet – – what happens is that it stops at “clients”.  Because if people make up a community, then serving people, means you’ve engaged the community.  To me, community means bystanders.

Does a school do a good job at community engagement, just because parents come in the building.  Not in my opinion.  Can they bring in local artists, local business owners, what about community members on the fringe.  I heard of classroom program that adopts a single Mom and infant.  Mom and child visit the classroom and the kids practice and learn empathy by watching baby’s face, for cues.  Happy, sad, frustrated.  That’s just another example.

It strengthens community when you change peoples lives.  Not just the lives of your ‘service recipients’ the lives of your volunteers, your board members, the people who you pass in the building.

I was out socially recently.  Having a few beers one of the men in the group was pretty outspoken.   He finally said something like “you can stop recruiting anytime”.  He was teasing a bit, but it was funny because it was true.  See I have learned that telling you about Restorative Justice is great, you can catch my enthusiasm.  Get you in a session – it changes you.  You never really understand it until you’ve been part of it.  That’s how you make a community stronger, person by person regardless of who the person is or what other communities they might be part of.

We all have multiple communities.  For me, professional network in River Falls community.  I  have a community of RJ pracition friends, I have a facebook, twitter community.  I have a basketball Mom community, a few good friends community.  I feel like I am in a community with teachers, since I do so many trainings with them.  I am in a single Mom community – only those of us doing that day in and day out get to understand that.  Being a single woman is another community.

Basically we need to embrace that we are all part of one overall larger connected community.  Victims, offenders, board members, strangers on the street and people who say yes to my grant requests – they could cross into anyone of my communities.  Just like you – we share multiple communities, and everyone we touch – touches someone else.

Make your community stronger, by being stronger.

Realizing how much we really do. We matter.

Wow what a week . . . from super stressed to feeling super accomplished!

-solid start to a new class, advanced restorative justice dialog.  Including ‘blogging’ for students, a 21st Century life skill.

-Victim Empathy Seminar – impacting 3 offenders, 3 community members.

-Circle with Alternative School Students and Community Member.

-powerful volunteer orientation Circle (of course) & updated a bunch of volunteer forms.

-Appointment with Dermatologist, managing medical issue with Hives.  Found the secret them becoming less annoying.  The cost of the newer/better cream $236!  I said no thanks!  After a $81 in antihistamines the day before!

-Mommy role:  went to basketball game, watched CSI (I don’t care for the show, but Kylie likes it) and out to dinner with my amazing teenage daughter.

-Met with Mentor – right on!  Time to focus on my goals, strengths and personal growth!

-Coffee with someone because he asked and I needed to slow down a bit.  He leads ceremony and we have common interests around spirituality.

Re,organized my book documents and my desk at work.

-Wrote 3 other blog posts, kept Twitter and LinkedIn accounts current.  Follow me on Twitter!

-Phone call to catch up my publisher Denise at Living Justice Press.  Let her know what I have set for my book deadline.

-picked up my apartment, made a favorite meal and almost have all my laundry done for the weekend.

-an hour of Kundalini Yoga.  I totally recommend this DVD, even one time and it’s worth the $13, as good as any class I’ve taken.

-some people were really there for me this week.  That’s really helped me transistion from stressed to flexed.  Flexed, like stretched or a muscle that needed a little extra effort.  My team of friends and support really stepped up.  Jeanie and I talked during the week.  She’s my best pal back in South Dakota.  Catherine had me to her home, and my blog was up on her computer screen.  She fed me supper and came along to my daughters basketball game.  She really showed kindness and gave me a Valentine’s Day gift, two heart shaped glass candle holders.  She’s also checked in on my ‘hives’.  Its the little things that mean a lot.  Ayesha came back from Trinidad and brought me Trinidad coffee, a stone necklace (coffee and stones are some of my favorite things).

I feel really good about everything I got done.  I covered for a coworker at the office, realized how much we are doing at SCVRJP.  I’ve had a great deal of awareness this week.  And hey, what could be worth more than getting to know yourself and your community a little more.

My cup is full, I feel gratitude for all I have.  I feel capable of doing what I need to do.  Hopefully it’s not just a Prednisone rush.  (On the predinisone for the hives). 

Life is what we all experience with its moments of joy, stress, anger, relief, support, healing, relaxation, love, worry and hope.  It really is living that makes us human.

Enjoy your life! – Kris

100th post – a story about cactus & community

THANK YOU!!!!  Yes the readers here are a major contribution to me continuing to blog.  Please leave a comment and let me know what you like reading about.

Side story – over the summer we updated my daughters room.  We were shopping for a little accent and decided to get several small cactus.0112997386503_150x150  We got a large flat bowl to put several of them together and create a little garden.  She picked a little fish bowl sign and added a small doll.

Six months pass and she is no longer interested in the “cactus garden”.  She brings it to me, I give her back the doll and decide to return the cactus to smaller individual containers.  The dirt and sand mix of the big bowl didn’t blend with the dirt of the mini containers.  I have a production out of changing the cactus around.  It’s  a topic for our family for almost two weeks.  Handling this cactus family, it’s kind of a joke and we are attached to these.  Plants are alive, so we respect them.

So now each cactus is in it’s own little mini container and placed in different spots around our home.  I even gave one away as a gift.

Then they start to die.  The first was a tall cactus and it just fell over, the stem had rotted.  Two weeks later, another one, brown and gone.   I say to my daughter . . . (this is the moral of the story)  “They didn’t start to die until I took them out of the community”.  She very firmly and quickly responds “MOM, you’ve got to BLOG about THAT!”.  I had a good laugh for a few reasons.

First it was how alive and well my blog is in our family.  My kid doesn’t even read it, I just tell her about it.  Secondly, wow did it ever show that my daughter ‘gets it’.  She understands restorative justice and the importance of community.  I was really amazed.  She is quite the kid.

I was sharing with her, the strong and powerful reactions from my college students.  Many of the final papers (a class reflection) explain how impacted students were with the Circle process.  My daughter says “Mom, that’s weird, it’s a big deal for them, but for me, it’s the way it’s always been”. 

I know the work of Restorative Justice and Circles changes lives.  Never forget the life you change maybe the people closest to you.

100 posts . . . I’m all the better for it, I hope you are.


Guest Post from Catherine

In talking about Restorative Justice, I share the point of getting to know each other.  The more you know about someone the less likely you are to harm them.  This is also a basic premise of Restorative Justice.  Recently my coworker Catherine, shared the following story with me, I asked her to blog on it for me.  It shows a great example.  — Kris

I have a story that I think is a good example of why connecting to our communities is important. And proves the point….we don’t harm those we know.

I live in a small town 30 miles east of St. Paul in Western WI. There are several rent controlled apartment buildings in my neighborhood. When I first moved into the neighborhood (over 10 year ago), I noticed many of the children from the apartment buildings wandered around the neighborhood unsupervised in the summer time. Since I have an in ground heated pool in my back yard, and am a former life guard, I decided to open my pool to the neighborhood children one day per week during summer vacation. The response has been overwhelming. I have children of all ages show up on “open swimming” days. Many have no towels or swim suits and just jump into the warm water…clothes and all! They are so excited to swim in the pool. Two little elementary school aged girls were regulars this past summer and I was able to spend time getting to know them.

September came around and I closed the pool down. I decorated my house with scarecrows, corn, and pumpkins. One Saturday morning in early Sept my door bell rang. I opened the door to find my two little summer swimming friends. They were standing on my front porch with two new girls. The two new girls were unfamiliar to me. One of my little swimming friends said, “Mrs. Cranston these two girls stole your pumpkins. We made them come back and return the pumpkins and tell you they are sorry.”

Upon inquiry I found out the two new girls had just moved into the apartment building. The saw my pumpkins from across the street. The new girls came across the street stole my pumpkins and brought them back to the apartment building. My two little swimming friends found out the pumpkins were from my house and were appalled that their new friends would steal from me…their friend.

I know in my heart that my pumpkins would never have been returned if my two little swimming friends hadn’t stepped forward to make things right. They told their new friends, “Those are Mrs. Cranston’s pumpkins, you can’t steal from her.” I am convinced these little girls and other children who live in the apartment building are looking out for me…because we have a connection now.