Restorative justice is a non-punitive system of jurisprudence that utilizes time proven processes combined with age old values and principles to facilitate personal and relational healing and wholeness. Proponents of restorative justice believe peaceful communities, peaceful organizations, peaceful schools, and peaceful families are a result of peaceful relationships.
In the restorative justice model, an offense is not the breaking of a law or rule; an offense is a harm suffered. Unlike the punitive/adversarial model of retributive justice which involves an offender-centered hierarchical power structure, restorative justice pursues a victim-centric collaborative solution to relational challenges. Restorative Justice approaches an offense as a wound, and considers healing of that wound as justice. Since Restorative Justice requires voluntary participation, justice is not an imposition, but, rather, an agreement in which stakeholders (those affected by harm, including the offender) take ownership.
Use of the restorative justice process affords stakeholders an opportunity to consensually determine the resolution of conflict. Whereas the retributive model tends to result in classification, division, and creation of dichotomies, the Restorative Justice model is designed to encourage reconciliation, relationship restoration, and community.
Numerous techniques are utilized in the pursuit of restorative justice. Dialogue through storytelling is a tool used by indigenous peoples for centuries and foundational to the restorative justice process. Our common humanity can be revealed and realized through first person narrative storytelling.
The yang to the yin of storytelling is active and empathetic listening. Since restorative justice facilitates conversation (cooperative) rather than discussion (adversarial), stakeholders are relieved of the need to respond to the speaker and can give themselves fully to the art of listening. Intentional listening can result in participants gaining understanding and forming a different perspective toward those whom they have harmed or the person who harmed them.
Victim/offender dialogue is a restorative justice method used to construct an environment conducive to honest, respectful conversation between a primary victim and an offender. In victim/offender dialogue stakeholders meet face-to-face as they are guided by a trained facilitator in the sharing of information and perspectives. It is not unusual for the actual meeting of victim and offender to be preceded by several months of stakeholder preparation by a restorative justice practitioner.
Another restorative justice method is the circle process. Circles are made up of stakeholders and can be utilized for the purpose of preventing conflict, decision-making, or facilitating peace when harm has been experienced by a community member. Circles may also be used to expose stakeholders to new ideas and different perspectives which can result in improved cognition and understanding.
Common values embraced by restorative justice include but are not limited to:
There are no "official" principles associated with restorative justice. However, there are generally recognized propositions found to facilitate healing and relationship restoration. These principles are as old as recorded history and can be found in ancient religious scriptures, normative ethical theories, and secular philosophy.
Relational healing can be helped when stakeholders gain an understanding and personal application of:
Relationships may be restored and personal and communal peace can be experienced when stakeholders recognize and apply this principles.
Restorative justice is a personal journey. The restorative justice process breaks down the hierarchy of authority freeing individual stakeholders from the constraints of arbitrary norms and conventions. Consequently, there are no positions of leader, instructor, teacher or student. Stakeholders possess equal value by virtue of their shared humanity, and perspectives expressed by participants are equally valid.
Ordinarily restorative justice processes require one or more persons to act as facilitator. The facilitator is sometimes referred to as the circle keeper. The circle keeper directs the dialogue, usually through questions posed to the group. Often the circle keeper will use props such as a talking piece and centerpiece.
A talking piece can be any object capable of being handed from one stakeholder to another as it is passed around the circle. The talking piece has historically symbolized respect among stakeholders. Those who possess the talking piece are shown respect by the other stakeholders through their active and empathetic listening. The person holding the talking piece affords respect to their fellow stakeholders by speaking succinctly and not monopolizing time with the talking piece.
Some circle keepers use centerpieces placed at the center of the circle to help stakeholders focus on the circle’s subject or purpose. Centerpieces might include candles, pictures, or other objects which remind stakeholders of the values and principles they want reflected in the circle. Oftentimes, stakeholders are encouraged to bring personal items relevant to the purpose of the circle to use as part of the centerpiece.
The circle keeper does not dictate or demand but merely directs discussion in a way that creates a safe environment in which participants can expose their most intimate vulnerabilities. As a member of the circle, the circle keeper must be willing to exhibit the honesty and “realness” necessary for meaningful dialogue. A compassionate and thoughtful circle keeper can help stakeholders find peace and healing, but, ultimately, each participant must travel their own restorative journey.
I want to facilitate a process that provides the opportunity for wholeness, healing, and peace for all affected stakeholders.
- Randy Langford, Lawyer
Randy Langford was interviewed by Cutting Edge Law in 2009. In this three part series, you will learn what has drawn Randy to the practice of Restorative Justice and his role in implementing it's study at St. Mary's Law School in San Antonio, Texas. Through this series, you will observe Randy's passion for real justice and his compassion for everyone involved in a crime.
|0:22||I ranched and trained horses, and after 20 years of that, my body gave out.|
|0:40||I began my undergraduate studies at St. Edward's Univeristy in Austin. While there, I went to work with some criminal defense attorneys and saw that there was a real problem with our criminal justice system. No one was satisfied with the process - victims, people charged, or the attorneys.|
|1:28||I attended a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) function for Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and heard about how Restorative Justice brought healing to a lawyer who was brutally victimzied by someone who had broken into her home. It just about ruined her life, she was so traumatized by the event. She had undergone this process called Restorative Justice and it had brought healing to her, and healing in such a way that she wanted to continue in that work to help other victims of crime.|
|2:23||I introduced myself to her as a student with aspirations of going to law school. I was invited to her office later that week, and left the office with a wealth of information on Restorative Justice.|
|3:04||She put me in contact with a friend who worked for the Travis County Sheriff's Office. They were about to implement one of the first Restorative Justice programs in a county jail in the United States.|
|3:23||I met to see if I could volunteer with the program to get practical experience in Restorative Justice to really understand what it was all about. The experience really transformed my life and was transformative for many of the participants in the program.|
|3:57||I participated in two and half of those programs before graduating and going on to St. Mary's Law School. While at the Law School, me and several of my student friends where disenchanted with what was being presented to us as justice.|
|4:26||I started sharing with my student friends my experience with Restorative Justice and toying with the idea of why aren't they teaching that in law school. It would be a good thing for lawyers to be aware of, if it in fact, is that transformative and can make that kind of difference and bring healing both to victims and offenders.|
|4:52||I approached Sister Grace of St. Mary's Law School, wondering if there was some way we could begin a program at St. Mary's on Restorative Justice. Soon after that, we had organized a Restorative Justice initiative at St. Mary's.|
|5:27||John Sage, founder and CEO of Bridges to Life, agreed to allow law students to participate in one of his Bridges to Life programs. He and I and a couple of the other students traveled to Joe Ney Prison Unit and met with the Warden. The Warden agreed to allow law students to come and facilitate a Bridges to Life Restorative Justice program in the prison.|
|6:06||We thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for students to, first, visit a prison and converse with inmates there and get to see the other side of the story, and at the same time, be able to facilitate a Restorative Justice program and become aquainted with the whole process and the principles.|
|6:34||Soon after that we started a program in the Bexar County jail, then started some community justice circles. We also implemented peace-making circles in a local elementary school with fifth graders.|
|6:50||Now the Restorative Justice initiative at St. Mary's is a very viable, active program that has been embraced by even the President of the University, and is currently being integrated into the academic program at St. Mary's and the clinical program.|
|7:11||In just a couple of years, it's moved very quickly, with plans to make St. Mary's the epicenter for Restorative Justice studies and clinical program applications for law schools in Texas. It is one of the few law schools that has an active Restorative Justice program.|
|End - Part 1 of 3|
|0:00||When we first met with the administration at St. Mary's to get their blessing to go into the prison, we met resistance mainly because none of the professors had ever heard of this thing called Restorative Justice. The students had to make them familar with it, what it was, what it was about, why it was germane to the practice of law, why it would be beneficial for law students to have working knowledge of Restorative Justice and how it could be used in a practice.|
|0:45||The administration was receptive to it, and a few of the administrators really embraced the idea of Restorative Justice. They saw it as a way to distinguish the Law School. They gave us the green light.|
|1:37||The students understood that if this turned out to be a successful endeavor, that at some point in time, the administration and the University would want to take credit for it, that the students would have to give them full credit, and for the most part, it would be well-deserved because they would have allowed us to even try the process. And that is exactly what has happened and we are happy to allow the University to tout the Restorative Justice Initiative.|
|2:26||The students intent from the very beginning was not to have a student-run organization, but to work themselves out of a job -- once it was established, for the University to take it over and turn it into an area of academic study and a clinical program, and students begin to get credit for it. It's on the fast-track for that now.|
|2:58||The students worked really hard to establish it and gain credibility. They offered ten scholarships to visit Marquette Law School in Milwaukee to study under Janine Geske and Mark Umbreit since it was an established program, to try to emulate it at St. Mary's.|
|3:29||That was all student initiated, student run, student financed -- the whole thing. It was a monumental effort on the part of the students, but they were dedicated to it and they believed in Restorative Justice, and it happened and it's been a great thing ever since.|
|3:45||For other law students who may be are interested in establishing a Restorative Justice initiative or studies at their law school, it's very important to find an ally on the faculty or administration who can be your champion. Someone who is well regarded by the faculty and administration. Pick that person carefully.|
|4:16||Secondly, don't take no for an answer. They told us, "No, you cannot go into the Bexar County Jail". And, we said, "Thank you very much, we appreciate that," and the next week we met with Bexar County Jail and we were in there about a month later doing a program. After the program was up and going, we touted it. We helped rewrite the curriculum to be used in a jail setting. We condensed it down to a five week program, and it was the first time that had ever been done.|
|4:49||Because of the short duration of stay of inmates in a county jail, in order to have inmates go completely through a program while they are in a county jail, we had to complete it in 30 days, and then work very closely with the administrators at the jail. They would go through and filter out inmates that fit a certain type--certain offenses--were going to be there for a certain amount of time, and put them together. Law students would go in there and administer the program. It was a great program.|
|5:25||In order for Restorative Justice to go on and be accepted in our courts, in our areas of practice, in our communities, it's going to have to be the result of lawyers, by virtue of being law students having been exposed to the principles and processes in law school in a very practical way and a clinical way. Those law students are going to go on to become judges, and those law students are going to go on to become prosectutors, going to go on to become defense attorneys, to go on to be family law attorneys, and if they understand the language, and they understand the principles involved in Restorative Justice, it's an easier sale down the road to get them to try it, get them to consider a restorative solution to a problem.|
|6:14||If that's what our real goal is, rather than our own particular glory or taking credit for it, then we have to work hard as law students to initiate it, and then be willing to turn it over to the school and have it be an integral part of the study there.|
|6:33||When they say, "No," be polite, thank them for their time, and then go do it. And keep doing it until they finally say, This is a great thing," and then hand it over to them, give them credit, because you have to be willing to step aside and not want the limelight for yourself. The whole intent is that the school adopt it as an area of study.|
|7:01||We use, as the basis of the program, the curriculum developed by Bridges to Life because they have done a great job. They had a textbook that inmates could read between circles, one with a workbook that asked questions that caused them to consider the principles and processes involved in Restorative Justice.|
|7:25||So that prepared them for the circles, and then we would meet twice a week and talk about--by telling our own stories--the application of these principles in our own lives. It was really great, and to their credit, it's a great curriculum. We've even gone on to use the same basic form whenever we, as law students, actually develop the program for public schools, that we used with fifth graders.|
|7:59||We took the same basic form that we used in county jail and in the prisons and just turned it into fifth grade language, and changed the questions a little bit, and used it with fifth graders and it worked great. It was a peace-making, transforative type of process to help them recognize responsibility and accountability and those principles that are important in the restorative process.|
|End - Part 2 of 3|
|0:00||One of the things that came out of the trip of the 10 students to Milwaukee, they were each assigned a particular area of interest. They agreed, by accepting the scholarship, that when they came back they would produce a publishable quality paper on the application of Restorative Justice in that area of practice of law.|
|0:28||What has happened now, the papers have been submitted, they are in the process of being edited, and they are going to be compiled into a "how to" manual. It's going to be passed out to judges, professors, public schools. It's basically how to administer Restorative Justice in these different areas of life, law, whatever. So that came out of that trip to Milwaukee.|
|0:56||It very much impressed the faculty of St. Mary's because now they have students who are basically producing law journal quality papers on Restorative Justice. And, they're doing it for no credit. They were impressed that law students would take that much self-initiative, and were that committed to Restorative Justice that they would do that. It gained us a lot of ground in the eyes of the faculty and administration because no other organization was doing anything like that.|
|1:36||I wasn't sure what justice was, but I was certain it wasn't what was happening at the Courthouse. There was nothing just about any of it. The victims weren't being helped, the offenders weren't being helped, the community wasn't being helped, looked like it cost everyone a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort... a lot of heartache.|
|2:10||I was struggling with this idea of what is justice? As I researched Restorative Justice, I could see the way Restorative Justice defined justice. It wasn't something that was imposed upon people. It was whatever the stakeholders involved in the event, whatever harms suffered, both offender and victim, whatever they said justice was. And, that's when the healing occured. When they came to a place where they said justice had been accomplished.|
|2:53||I could see that was the only real way it could be. It was the only real way that people could be restored to communities, that relationships could be restored, that people could find peace and healing in their lives after sometimes suffering traumatic events and suffering great harm and causing great harm.|
|3:14||As a law student, as a lawyer, I really had no desire to be involved in this head butting, this contentious construct of a justice system that I was being trained to be a participant in. It just didn't interest me. I didn't want to try to win, and have someone else have to lose in order for me to win. I knew in my own personal life that that had never worked out. In instances where I thought I had won, I really didn't win at all. I wanted to be a part of a system where there were win-win situations. And, when it was all said and done, they would say, "I have received justice." And, both parties said that, and walked away whole again, in whatever they decided wholeness was.|
|4:17||That's the way I wanted to practice law, and in a system designed for those results. I knew that system didn't exist anywhere where I would probably hang a shingle. If there was any chance of that ever occuring it was going to start in law school. I wasn't going to be able to go out there and convince a judge who had been sitting on the bench for 15 years to try this new system of jurisprudence. It was going to happen by some law student going out and being exposed to it in law school, and after they sat on the bench for five years, they would start using it in the adjudication of their cases and start encouraging lawyers to become interested in it.|
|5:15||I thought, if we can get something like that started in law school, and particularly at St. Mary's--very much community minded, very much attuned to social justice issues--if we could get it started in a school like St. Mary's, and have some support behind it, maybe there might be a ripple affect that might spread out across the community, maybe to other law schools across the state of Texas. I know there are other places like Marquette that have made incredible inroads into the community. They have been a force in that community that has truly brought about change in Milwaukee County. You go up there and Restorative Justice permeates almost every area of that community. If it can happen in Milwaukee County, why can't it happen in San Antonio, Texas. And, if it can happen in San Antonio, Texas, why can't it happen in Texas, general, and if it can happen in Texas, why can't it happen in every other state. That's where my thinking goes.|
|7:01||My intentions are to practice criminal defense law, but also to use what I have learned about Restorative Justice, and the principles and processes involved to help my clients, both in regards to whatever offense they might be charged with, but also just in their life, in general, to help them incorporate those same practices into their life, and in their relationships in their lives. Sometimes, the criminal offense they are charged with is the most minimual thing going on in their lives. They have a lot of bigger problems. A lot of times they call up to talk to me as a legal assistant, and they never talk about the DWI they had, they talk about the problems they are having with their kids, at their work, or something like that.|
|7:58||If the law is going to be for people, and not just for the law's sake, then attorneys need to help the entire person in all areas of their life. Just getting them out of a tight spot in regards to the law may be the least that an attorney can do. Maybe helping them find some peace, by employing restorative processes in their life, might be the most good an attorney can do for someone in a situation.|
|9:01||I'm convinced that these restorative practices, in all areas of life, have resulted in a better life for me. And, if it results in a better life for me, there is no reason it can't help somebody else.|
|End - Part 3 of 3|