Restorative Justice Circles talking or transformation, using key elements for change.

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program ( has been doing 100’s of Circles a year, since 2006.  In that time we have successfully placed topics in the center of the Circle.  We have consistently used a structure, based on the work of Kay Pranis (more posts referencing Kay).  The key elements of a Restorative Justice Circles, have been featured in two books by Kay, the Little Book of Circle Process and Peacemaking Circles from Crime to Community.

These Circle experience spans school settings, severe crime and significant loss, to staff meetings structured with Circle and our many Circles held to address public health issues in our community.  Highlighted in this post, are the rationale and reasons for using the key elements.  Talking Circles provide connection and potential to repair harm.  To transform the way people see themselves and others in connection to community and to transform behavior instantly, try the Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle Elements, as described here.

A few of the commonly skipped or overlooked Key Elements:  Consensus to Values, 4 Stages.  A Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle is more than just using a talking piece.

Consensus to Values This aspect of Circle is more than just having people write on a paper plate.  This aspect is also designed to pull people together in a community that has decided how they will relate to each other.  The first steps of “community” if not geography, would be common interests.  A specific pass of the talking piece asking people to reflect on the values in the center, as part of the way of being together, deepens the connection before exploring topics, facing challenges or repairing harm.

4 Stages  (I am assuming you know these, there are many posts here highlighting) When we take time to do some questions, before the deeper conversation, or intention of the Circle, we are reminding people that we can make important connections by caring and learning about each other.  The simple content provides a context for common likes, it builds connection.  Some of my favorites lately have been to ask people about the next big accomplishment.  Fun results when I asked another training group to share 3 things about their shoes.

The final part when using the 4 stages, is to give opportunity for people in the Circle to identify their “take aways” or reflections on the experience.  This serves for people to identify quickly and immediately the benefit of the experience.  Like speaking to the Center in Circle promotes self – agency, so does speaking to your experience at the end of the Circle.  The use of the last phase helps us know we did good work together, it is another opportunity to allow people to share from the wise-centered part of who they are.  When doing Circles around trauma or emotionally heavy topics, it allows people to  prepare for returning to the un-structured everyday communication styles.

When you do more in Circle, than just employe a talking piece, you are creating space for safety.  Safety promotes vulnerability, vulnerability becomes a responsibility (tweet me) and a responsible keeper uses that for the greater good of  all in Circle.  Using the stages show respect and places the power, in each person and the Center of the Circle.

Key Elements Restorative Justice Circle

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program offers Webinars for 2014.

There are 6 webinars scheduled, each will be 90 minutes, beginning at 4 pm CST.  This is a new venture for SCVRJP and we are exploring our webinar service, which will be announced in February, please register early!

Flyer: Webinars Kris Miner

Community-Based Restorative Justice

March 12th Engaging Stakeholders, developing programs, maintaining RJ integrity.

March 26th Volunteer management, community engagement, utilizing community needs.


School-Based Restorative Justice

May 14th Restorative measures, using & implementing a “Whole School” approach.

May 28th Use of Circles, application with PBIS, Circles at every tier.


Severe Crime Victim Offender Dialogue

June 4th Preparing parties, finding & responding to needs.

July 16th Utilizing listening & self-care while facilitating VOD.

Campus Restorative Justice as a community non-profit.

I feel in love with Restorative Justice in the late 90’s.  The first training left me a bit confused, maybe I should say “challenged”.  At that time, I was working from a place of ego than compassion.  I saw the families on my caseload as very different from me.  I was missing the basic humanity and the fact that we are all interconnected (click to tweet).  I put a wedge/distance between us because I hadn’t yet faced many of my own pains.  It is our suffering connects us the quickest (tweet).  Last night in Circle, as soon as someone opened up, “went there” and shared about a harm, the rest of the Circle members became more engaged, more open.  I feel far more effective as a “helper” these days than back in the late 90’s.  THANK YOU IIRP for bringing that first training session to town!  Thank you the State of Minnesota for implementing a Restorative Justice Planner!

It is not the 90’s anymore.  I’ve seen trends come in, tried to understand where they came from what was intended.  Some very good, like the expansion of Restorative Justice to college campus.  Some concerning for example, blueprint layouts for a prison called Restorative Justice (visiting areas designed to be circular).  Some changes are needed, as Restorative Justice learned, shifted, grew, it became more defined.  Teen Court is not Restorative Justice and we need to put each on a clear path and not co-mingle the two.

Campus programs, like community, school or prison programs of Restorative Justice can start from many places.  Sometimes a pressing need appears and Restorative Justice is brought in.  In some instances, the shift in addressing student misconduct is evaluated and a new way emerges, the new way selected is Restorative.  Restorative Justice in all areas (not just campus)  works best when designed for 3 areas.  The first to focus on the community culture over all, Circles to connect – reaffirm relationships, the second for at-risk places or where we need to rebuild relationships, and finally when a wrong-doing has occurred, Circles to repair-relationships.

The story of St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program (SCVRJP)- and our local campus University of Wisconsin River Falls, has all of the elements I mentioned above.  SCVRJP has been called upon to come and facilitate for community building.  Specifically with Destination students – teaching the tool of Circle Keeping – to trip leaders.  Service learning has a component of reflection.  Circles make great containers for this type of deep reflection.  They especially help students cross-pollinate the good in each other.

SCVRJP and UWRF have worked side by side to address specific harms on campus.  We’ve taken referrals and worked with students who experienced conflict.  SCVRJP responded when a student died on campus, we held a Circle to support and grieve together.  Students use to pass into the criminal justice system from campus, mostly for underage consumption.  Now, the campus housing policy, sends them directly to SCVRJP.  Not only has this has brought fewer appearances in court, an officer was quoted in saying few incidents of passed out students on campus.

Our local non-profit provides students a service learning site, internships, we speak at campus programming.  After a few semesters off, I am back to teaching a class on campus.  Budget cuts and financial adjustments caused the break.

So now, SCVRJP is seeing more campuses represented at our training sessions!  Housing staff, student responsibility leaders from different campuses and programs are coming to the two-day Circle Training.  Many campuses are developing internal programs each designed to suit the needs of their campus.  We’ve provided training specifically to campus staff and are available to contract for training events.

The housing professionals from the ATCCHA schools who attended the October 28, 2011 professional development session at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls found the presentation by Kris Miner of the St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Center to be professional, informative and enlightening.  Kris did an excellent job of sharing information not only on the tenants of restorative justice, but how it can be applied and utilized by student conduct administrators.  Staff in attendance felt that the presentation met the need they had to learn more about this topic.

Sandi Scott Duex, Director of Residence Life/Student Rights & Responsibilities University of Wisconsin – River Falls

Training for Restorative Justice Facilitation – Fall 2012 St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program

One of the revenue generating activities for SCVRJP is consultation income.  This includes payments made to trainings held on site at SCVRJP and for contracted trainings, where I travel off site and train for another agency.  This blog post will feature some trainings that are available on-site, and would be available as contract opportunities.  The session offerings have evolved over the last few years as I have trained and learned what is helpful to others for implementation.  Each session can be focused to school or community settings.

I recently did two victim-offender-dialogue cases in two days.  Both involved a death, one happened 25 years ago and the other just under 2 years.  One case took months of preparation, the other just a week!  With every case, you meet the individual needs, each case is unique.  There was much to learn and gain, as these two sessions came together to be held back to back.  Combined with the expereinces of preparing people for conferences and circles, I decided to offer the Art & Science training opportunities.  These will cover in-depth preparation meetings, and the key elements for facilitating a session.

Restorative Justice the Art & Science

August 2 & 3 – River Falls, WI or October 3 & 4* – West St. Paul, MN

  • Day 1: Preparing Victims & Offenders for Restorative Process
    • Restorative Justice/Restorative Practices –theory into practice.
  • Day 2: Restorative Conferences & Restorative Circles
    • Skills and facilitation of Restorative Process.

*co-sponsored by Dakota County Community Corrections & Hastings Restorative Justice Council – no charge, MRSC members can register at a reduced rate.

Circle Keeper Training    October 5 & 6  River Falls, WI

Participants will learn:

  • Restorative Justice Philosophy and Practices
  • Core Circle Elements
  • Circle Stages
  • Role of a Circle Keeper
  • Circle Applications for PBIS stages
  • Dealing with Un-circle-like behavior

Restorative Justice Victim Impact Panels

October 12  River Falls, WI

Participants will learn:

  • Operating a successful VIP program
  • Working with storytellers & speakers – survivors & offenders

SCVRJP has been providing VIP’s since 2003, and reaches over 500 individuals a year.  This service meets the Driver Safety Plan requirements and supports survivors of impaired driving crashes.

Click here for: Training Flyer, you can pre-register by contacting me at 715-425-1100 or

In the society, community and family of Restorative Justice, 3rd National Conference 2011.

I have attended 3 of the 3 National Restorative Justice Conferences.  I am typing this blog from the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Raleigh, host of the most recent meeting.  I stayed tonight, the conference ended at noon.  Instead of being surrounded by familiar faces, and at the very least, people in orange lanyards, I am here alone.  I am feeling lost in a mystery of something much bigger than myself.  This is a feeling that only being alone, without lonliness can provide.

I knew that this would be a transformative adventure.  I hardly leave home without one!  Why not make the most of your travels by ascribing meaning and setting yourself up to a different (hopefully better) person from going from point A to point B and back again!  I haven’t even made it home and I know I am very, very different.

My adventure began by picking up Kay Pranis, and traveling out of Minneapolis together.  I love Kay, she really embodies the spirt and essence of a restorative justice circle practitioner.  We were joined at the gate by Mark Umbriet, and I sat speechless, as the conversation included comparisions of criminal justice reforms, via restorative justice and health care, plant care, food systems and health.  I was practically tongue tied as my thoughts drifted from the conversation to the the experience of sitting with these two pioneeers of this movement.  They so very humbly, chatted with me about these issues.

Breakfast day 1, Mark Yantzi.  Hmmm, voice clear.  You know the history of Restorative Justice includes the first form of a conference in 1974 of which Mark was the Probation Agent.  He was unassuming, polite, kind and I referenced my connections with the client he took from home to home, Russ Kelly.

My friend Harold presented, he’s been at all 3 conferences, doing great work in prisons in Missouri.  I love Marilyn Armour, blogged about her before.  Our conference was woven together by musical phenom, David LaMotte, who so gently, eloquently weaved his gifts of song, songwrititng and humanitarianism, right into our conference.

Love was in the air.  I was so happy to connect with friends that were on the planning committee, and who helped me help the conference book sales and exhibit booths.  To see an excel spreadsheet of titles and authors turned into a room of resources was a remarkable feeling.  Many of the authors were in attendance at this conference.  Right now, my most recent facebook photo is with Howard Zehr.  Outside of all of us doing our practice in our communities, it doesn’t get anymore grass roots.

I love Dr Micheal Gilbert, he is a wonderful human being.  We chatted about the first conference, his connection to that.  We had a few laughs when I said the first conference “felt” grassroots.  He promptly told me that was because, “it was!”.

I hope for those of you that attended, my experience is a reminder and validation for all that you experienced.  For those of you unable to attend, I hope this blog post shares how close our family of restorative justice really is.  We are all part of a healing wave.  We are taking root, we are growing and nurturing a way for our futures and our children’s futures.

I feel blessed to part of this.  I acknowledge all of you and thank you.

In-depth Training opportunities, advancing your Restorative Justice practice.

I believe that people change and grow.  One way to stay solid in your restorative justice practice, is to see advanced and specialized training.

I just signed up for a wonderful opportunity – STAR.  Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience.  I am excited to deepen my connection to something I find facinating and rewarding to do, help people heal from trauma.

I also want to promote some other offerings available at Eastern Mennonite University.

“Building Justice: Transitional and Indigenous Applications in Post-war Contexts”

When violent conflict divides a society, as Desmond Tutu once pointed out, it leaves in its wake trauma, broken trust, and discord—and no roadmap to find the way out. This course will focus on understanding and embracing a form of justice that satisfies human need, and will examine contemporary applications of justice in post-war settings. It will cover key theories and a multi-disciplinary approach to justice, and will also compare and critique contemporary structures such as the International Criminal Court, truth and reconciliation commissions, and restitution and reparation practices.  Special emphasis will be  given to innovations in hybrid justice models and practices that encourage the inter-generational transmission of restorative justice and a concern  for the common good .  

Taught by Carl Stauffer, June 13-17, 2011. For more information on the Summer Peacebuilding Institute or how to apply, go to or call 540.432.4490.

“A Systems Approach to Organizational Conflict: Transforming Conflict in Your Organization”

Conflicts within organizations are often seen as personality clashes or a breakdown in communication between two people or groups, but  many can’t be truly transformed until the systemic roots of the conflict have been uncovered and understood. This course will encourage participants to see conflict in organizations as a function of the relationship systems within the organization. Participants will first examine their own family of origin through the lens of family systems theory and then adapt that theoretical framework to assess an organization and its conflict dynamics. This is a highly interactive course, utilizing case study and role-play methodology and concluding with the opportunity to study an actual organization.

Taught by David Brubaker and Roxy Allen of InsideNGO. For more information on the Summer Peacebuilding Institute or how to apply, go to or call 540.432.4490.

Restorative Justice Circle training, for keepers and practitioners.

Attached is a 2 page pdf – highlighting some of the training responses and goals.  This also includes an easy to use registration form.

SCVRJP Circle Trainings 2011

Sessions are scheduled for April, July and October in River Falls Wisconsin.  St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice is 40 miles and 50 minutes from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.

You can also contract with SCVRJP, and have me come on-site for trainings.  Training fee’s have not increased since 2009, the revenue generated goes right back to work for Restorative Justice and helps support the mission of SCVRJP to promote a culture of peace and belonging.

Keeper-experience.  It is not uncommon for me to keep 5-7 Circles a week, for a variety of ages and audiences.  From elementary schools to prisons the basics are the same.  The trainings are a great foundation or refresher for Circlekeepers.  I have brought Circles to public health issues and our local community needs.  We (SCVRJP) use Circles (victim empathy seminars) when a formal victim-offender conference is not going to work.  SCVRJP also addressed underage consumption (alcohol kills more teens per year than all other drugs combined), substance use (more teens smoke pot than cigarettes), teen driving (the number one cause of death for people 16-24 is car crashes) and our newest offering Restorative Response Circles address suicide (the number 2 cause of death for teens).

In 2003 SCVRJP reached 35 people.  In 2010 4,908, that is 10% of the population of one of the two counties we serve.  All the services I have created utilize the Restorative Justice Circle process.  I rely heavily on the work of Kay Pranis, author: Peacemaking Circles.

School-based effectiveness.  I have a great resource in a 3rd grade teacher who has been using this technique in her classroom for 3 years now.  She helped coach me on designing the curriculum as “teacher” friendly.  I understand how to work with implementation challenges and share the materials in a manner that teachers can duplicate.

Passion and Energy.  I try to be humble, however this post is turning into post to encourage you to get trained by me!  I LOVE CIRCLES!  I get excited when we all agree to honor the values, even after hundreds of Circles.  I hold close to core values and firmly, wholeheartedly believe in the powerful transformation that listening, empathy and respect can bring to each and every person.   Consistently I get feedback about my passion and energy.  I have bolded this as a value alongside “keeper-experience and school-based effectiveness” because it is the aspect that ties this together.  I know what I am doing (experience) have developed my skills (effectiveness) and bring the contagious factor (passion).  I would love to work with your school or agency, so please give me a call and we can explore promoting Restorative Justice Circles.

ps- I really welcome any comments from anyone who has participated in a training session with me!

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.

Storytelling for Victim Impact Panels or Restorative Justice.

12 Restorative  Storytelling Tips

  1. Speak from the heart.  Share your experience and perspectives, be completely honest, don’t edit or modify what you have to say based on assumptions about the audience.  This is your experience to share.  You can be real without being offensive, when you speak from your heart.
  2. Follow the 4 stages.  You may be tempted to start at the beginning chronologically, to be logical.  A “change of behavior by a change of heart” is a restorative justice slogan.  Emotions do not require rational, logical presentation, to be felt or experienced.
  3. Stage 1, Intro.  Tell us about who you are, where you live, what your work or hobbies include.  This gives you a moment to get in your storytelling zone and to get a feel for your presentation and audience.
  4. Stage 2, Incident.  This is what happened from your perspective and experience.  People who experience trauma were going about their lives and suddenly an incident changed the course forever.  Simply explain the incident.
  5. Stage 3, Impact.  Share what you have and are feeling, hearing, thinking and, doing on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels.  How have you been changed, how have those around you changed?
  6. Stage 4, Reflection.  This is the part of your story to reflect back on how and why you are story telling.  This is where you can share what you hope for the audience.  You can relate what telling the story does for you, why you tell this story.
  7. Use details.  Small details have a HUGE impact.  When you give people the color of a car, season of the year, a sound, a holiday, they get a mental picture.  These details help in describing the story.
  8. Restorative Perspective.  Please review the mission, vision and values of SCVRJP.  We respect all individuals that engage with the program.  The quickest way to shut down a listener is to judge them.  Present your perspective, your experience and avoid statements of opinion or judgment.

9.  Emotions are ok.  Tears are healing, restorative storytelling is healing.  If you become overwhelmed or emotional that is ok.  You do not need to say you are sorry; it may help to acknowledge what you are feeling in that moment.  Take a few deep breaths, gently bite your tongue if needed and continue. 

10. Tell your story.  Try to avoid reading from a script.  The four stages can be remembered by assigning them to bases on a ball field.  You do not have to be perfect or say the same thing every time.

11.  Eye Contact.  Find people in the room that are listening.  Take the opportunity to look at those you are speaking with.  Eye contact builds trust.  Defenses may rise and people may even project negative body language when in fact they are being deeply impacted.

12. Generosity is appreciated.  We know you are giving.  By telling this story in hopes of helping others you are a giver.  People appreciate those willing to give of themselves.  SCVRJP staff will support you at all steps, and are available to discuss any concerns, questions, ideas that you may have.

 How the 12 tips improve restorative storytelling

Restorative storytelling is designed to help both the speaker and the listener.  The goal is to bring healing to those impacted and those that have caused harm.  The stories are used to motivate others regarding future choices.  Often times we know our listeners have made a similar choice already.  Our goal is to leave people with immediate, short and long term benefits, highlighted below.


Tip Benefit to speaker Benefit to listener
  1. 1.   From the heart
You get to integrate your experience genuinely by speaking directly about it.

Often times we screen what we say to friends and family, considering their thoughts, perspectives and feelings.  This is a chance for you to speak about your experience.

Listeners appreciate a genuine and real person.  When you see someone being themselves, they become someone you can relate to. Honesty, even when the topic is difficult, is still respected. Speaking from the heart is a positive thing to witness.
  1. 2.   Four Stages
This gives you an outline to follow; if you get emotional speaking you can easily remember which stage. The story flows in a manner that builds connections, identifies the risk and inspires different choices.
  1. 3.   Intro
A trauma leaves you feeling like you are a different person that you don’t even know.  This will help remind you that you are still you.  These things about you don’t change. Listeners can connect to general things about the speaker.  Common things like hobbies, employment, siblings, are things listeners can connect to. Once connected you are more impacted.
  1. 4.   Incident
Trauma can leave PTSD; talking about it helps.  By describing the events that impacted you, you can begin to make sense of it in a different way, a way that helps you heal. Hearing about an incident brings the reality of risk.  Firsthand accounts help people realize just how real the risk is. Incidents can be dismissed as “happens to others” until heard firsthand.
  1. 5.   Impact
Everyone experiences trauma differently.  By sharing your impact, you can relate the pieces hardest for you.  You are actually working with the oldest part of your brain and releasing the experience and by being in the safety of telling the story you are improving your coping. Impact gives people a deeper perspective in how they could have and how people experience trauma.  The impact is a place where listeners realize how they would have felt and this motivates them to avoid these difficult experiences.
  1. 6.   Reflection
This allows you to describe the meaning you are going to make of this trauma.  This allows you to offer to others what you might have done differently.  This is a place where you have control over what happened.  This is a place to share your motivations for sharing, something others may not always understand. This brings the story to reality for listeners.  They understand how deeply changed people are.  This is a stage where hope is clear.  The non-judgmental sharing impacts people; they are given an opportunity to decide for themselves future actions.
  1. 7.   Details
Our brains remember snapshots as we experience trauma, small details remain in our memory.  By speaking about them we reduce the impact of flashbacks or being negatively impacted.  Sharing these details gives further reality and integration to our experiences. Details benefit the listener, by giving set points for the story.  The next time they see a red truck or drive past the funeral home mentioned, they can think of the story and the emotion felt when it was shared.  Local details stay with people longer.
  1. 8.   Restorative
Restorative approaches promote healing.  By speaking without judgment you are supported in directions of hope and coping rather than staying in stages of anger and resentment. Restorative Justice approaches deal with the social and emotional aspects of crime. Storytelling is the means to deliver the message. Participants expect to be put down, and when they are provided an experience and the opportunity to decide, people are more responsive.
  1. 9.   Emotions
Trauma hurts our emotional state, things that are emotional need expressing. Tears are healing by getting emotional you are facilitating healing and bearing witness to your experience. Humans are equipped with mirror neurons, when we see someone cry, it triggers a response for us. When we are touched to tears, we will remember the circumstances.
10. Telling When you tell your story, you are demonstrating your ability to talk about it. You are establishing an ability to cope by relating the experience. When you tell it you are able to speak to the parts that impact you at that telling. Defenses protect us; it is easier to dismiss someone reading than it is someone telling. By seeing a person get up and talk, listeners realize the task of public speaking is not easy.  Listeners are generally impressed to see someone share experiences.
11. Eye Contact It may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. Over time you will begin to build confidence. Talk to the person you are looking at; consider one person at a time. You can look at staff or volunteers for support. People find speakers with good eye contact to be credible. Knowing the speaker is looking at you helps listeners stay engaged. Eye contact builds an understanding that the speaker is committed to helping.
12. Generosity Volunteers often find that helping others helps themselves. Volunteering eases depression and general health and well-being. Giving your story is giving a piece of your life for the greater good of others. It helps people talk about the experience in a constructive environment. Listeners have often done the same risky behavior that the story is about. Storytellers have often been harmed by the same hurt. Sharing demonstrates a caring for those that deserve it least. This type of giving often leaves listeners feeling obligated to do the right thing.