Restorative Justice Practices as a Way of Life

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Excerpt from Teaching Peace

By Beverly Title, Ph.D

BB Final CoasterRestorative justice, at the simplest level, may be understood as bringing together the people most impacted by a crime or conflict to decide together what harm has been done and how that harm may be repaired. It has become a worldwide movement that is gaining momentum because of its intrinsic appeal and consistently strong outcomes. Across lines of culture and class, people around the globe respond positively when they hear about restorative justice.

“Why aren’t we doing this all the time, everywhere?” is a common question I hear when presenting the restorative way. Some countries, like Australia and England, are making great strides in reforming their criminal justice and school discipline systems through restorative lenses. In our community of Longmont and the state of Colorado, we are making some significant headway in this direction. In the last few years the Colorado legislature has passed bills to endorse restorative justice and have created a statewide council to promote its use. Just this past year the Restorative Justice Pilot Project was passed into law, and is in motion in four counties here in Colorado. As an appointed member of that state council, I invite you to track and support our progress and find out more about the new law at www.rjcolorado.org.

Many of us were initially motivated toward restorative justice by wanting to provide a response to crime and violence that was intrinsically whole and offered an opportunity for healing all involved parties. We recognize that punishment, even when imparted with the best of intentions, focuses on balancing the pain rather than restoring the loss, and it often brings unwanted side effects.

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For fifteen years I worked as an alternative school teacher, with many students who were in my class when they were not in jail. These youth were beautiful spirits caught up in challenging life circumstances which they often responded to violently. From them I learned that punishment is often internalized as another form of violence done to them, leaving them feeling entitled to “return the favor.” Through those years, I came to see our jails as crime colleges where people learn better criminal skills and come out more angry, having experienced deeper levels of hurt, and, therefore, feeling justified in causing more pain to others. And for this, we pay their tuition! My work with these students taught me there were more effective ways to address “mis”behavior, ways that bring greater understanding and connectedness with others. Restorative justice is particularly brilliant at building those bonds of connection. So when I encountered restorative justice, there was no turning back. I was compelled to bring it to my community.

Restorative justice rests on a foundation of values and principles. These tenets may be implemented in any number of ways that generally involve a circle of people exploring a wrong or conflict with the focus on repairing harm and making things right to the greatest extent possible. An internet search of restorative justice values and principles will reveal hundreds of sources, as much is written on this topic. In an effort to provide a concise version for our volunteers that is fairly easy to recall, I began to articulate the R’s.

The first version contained 4 R’s with Reintegration, the fifth R, being added later. The sequence of the R’s varied in earlier versions. Over the years, the scope and sequence have become precise. The 5 R’s are: Relationship, Respect, Responsibility, Repair, and Reintegration. Since our volunteer team has over a hundred people at times who are doing this work, it was important that we be consistent in our service delivery. The 5 R’s are taught to everyone; they were the code to live by and turn to as the basis for all decision making.

Our team of community of practitioners started out believing that we were doing this work as a service to our community and to the offenders and crime victims and their families that we touched. After a couple short years, we began to understand the depth to which our own lives had been impacted by this work. As a community of restorative justice practitioners, we realized and discussed the extent to which we were living our lives more clearly, more directly, more specifically guided by the values and principles of our restorative justice work. The 5 R’s became not only the umbrella for our volunteer work, but also the guide for raising our children, enhancing our relationships and interacting with our neighbors. We realized that the 5 R’s had, in fact, become a way of life.

Restorative justice practitioners are fond of saying, “Just trust the process.”  We have witnessed the remarkable outcomes that come from letting the magic of the Circle do its work. It sounds a bit woo-woo even to me, so I do not expect you, dear reader, to accept that yet; however, I suspect you may as we walk together through the experiences that led us to this conclusion. You will come to understand the depth of these 5 basic principles: Relationship, Respect, Responsibility, Repair, and Reintegration. You may even glimpse their capacity to enrich your life.

This excerpt is from Beverly’s book Teaching Peace: A Restorative Justice Framework for Strengthening Relationships

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