Restorative Justice

October 4, 2007 at 7:08 am (community response)

Restorative Justice

Some of this information is adapted from: Jennifer Llewellyn, ‘Dealing With the Legacy of Native Residential School Abuse in Canada’. However, I’ve also changed and added parts of it, and it is still open to adaptation, because I think these ideas are never fixed and always changing as we learn more and try more, succeed sometimes and fail more times.


Restorative justice is an idea about justice and a model for working through conflicts. It is only one model or idea about justice and conflict resolution – there are heaps of others. But there are at least interesting things you can take out of it and use, and it can be adapted or at least used to guide responses to a various range of different issues.


What is it?

Restorative justice is about restoration of relationships. About restoring mutual concern, respect and dignity between the parties. But, this may not always be entirely possible or desirable. Restorative justice is an idea about creating a process that can comprehend and address the true nature of harm suffered, acknowledging that harm and hurt is experienced as internal pain and suffering of those directly involved in the conflict, but also affects that person’s relationships with others, and even affects the relationships between and among people in a wider community. Restoring relationships doesn’t mean restoring personal or intimate relationships, it means restoring social relationships of equality.


Restorative justice and processes of conflict resolution should be survivor-centric. This means that the needs and desires of the person who has suffered the harm or hurt should be first and foremost. While sometimes restoring personal relationships may be one of these needs or desires, but lots of the time they won’t be. More often, the goal will probably be more along the lines of enabling all people involved to coexist with security and respect within the same community. Restorative justice doesn’t mean restoring the relationship between survivor and perpetrator to what it was before the situation occurred, because often what has happened is the result of existing inequality – restorative justice goes towards addressing that inequality.


There may be numerous things that are needed to make this possible, and lots of different people that may need to be involved in the conflict resolution process. Healing and support for the person who has been hurt or harmed, so they can continue to live their life within a community, so they feel supported and respected within a community, and safe within that community. For the person or people who caused that harm or hurt to take responsibility for their behaviour, and then to confront it with the aim of changing that behaviour. Restorative justice may involve the wider community – for people to recognise something as an issue, to learn how to support, to learn what is necessary to address the situation. To allow someone the space to heal, to help them to create and hold that space. To confront a person on their behaviour, to assist them through a process of change. To educate each other and learn, to try to find ways to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future – to address the individual situation, but also its relevant contexts and causes…. What else?


How can it work?

A conflict goes wider and deeper than a ‘dispute’ or particular individual situation. Usually a conflict has lots of different dimensions and levels of hurt, harm and tension. It is important to recognise that different things, acts, feelings, are usually connected. That past experiences and other relationships the person has or has had will change the way current experiences are felt, the effect acts have on people, and so on. The harm that may be felt stems beyond the particular response and reaction to an incident – it is usually ongoing, and spreads into different parts of a person’s life.


There is not really such thing as a specific model of restorative justice. Different processes can be totally different but still be restorative.  There are a few things that I guess form the basis of restorative processes, including integration rather than isolation (though often isolation might be an important part of a process leading to integration – and sometimes, if the isolated person does not take the steps required of them, they may be unable to be integrated back into the community), a common commitment to restoring social equality in relationships, and understanding community as an integral part in the creation and solution of social conflict, that the conflict goes beyond the individuals involved, that dealing with a situation requires looking at the specific situation but also its wider contexts and causes, looking at the outcomes or implications of a conflict and its resolution for the future for everyone involved, and bringing together everyone that has an interest in that future to deal with a situation in some way.


The first step is figuring out what all the different people who are involved in the conflict want from a conflict resolution process. This means examining peoples needs; working out what the heart of the conflict is, what kind of conflict it is. You need to help people to identify the harm or hurt that has been caused – there may be many different harms that have been caused. This might actually be part of dealing with the issue, and also might lead to people being able to identify what they need and want out of conflict resolution. The needs of the person who has suffered the hurt or harm must be the biggest priority. But others may have things they want to get out of the process too, hurts or harms they may have suffered in the situation – the person who has caused the hurt or harm, the communities of support for both, the broader community. I think its important that various people can actively participate in the process, at various levels. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to know what is going on, identities, be involved in the specific situation. But if we acknowledge that conflicts have wider contexts and causes, then we can all actively engage in trying to challenge and change those.


For restorative justice to really work, it has to be voluntary. The people who are involved – and particularly the person who has caused the hurt or harm – must want to address it. If they don’t, restorative justice processes aren’t really going to achieve much.


After working out what people want from a conflict resolution process, you can start to work out the best way to achieve those goals – what procedure or steps will be the best way to try to satisfy what everyone wants.


Truth-telling should be a central part of the process. Conflict resolution may involve creating space for people to tell their stories, to talk about their hurts and harms to whoever they want to or need to. Truth-telling also needs to be in the form of an admission of responsibility by the person who has caused the harm. This is a pre-condition for a restorative process. A restorative justice process should also involve an honest relating of stories and experiences by other people who may be involved in the situation and process. Face to face meetings and sharing of stories and experiences between the survivor and the person who has caused harm, and the community is a key part of restorative processes. However, protection of the survivor, and also the perpetrator, has to be the predominant concern. A face to face meeting with both at once might not be possible – the survivor may not want to be in the same space as the perpetrator, and so on. So there may need to be other ways such a process can work. There also needs to be ways to prevent power imbalances from affecting the process.


Some ways to get around this might be: having a facilitator who mediates the conflict, and kind of structures the process and makes sure that things are moving along; or potentially having different facilitated sessions, one with the survivor and one with the perpetrator, and having someone else read out something that the other has written at each one. One idea is also to have shuttled sessions – there would be a main meeting, with everyone present, and someone who would speak for either the survivor or the person who has caused the hurt or harm. This would be the main session. In another room, the person not at the main meeting could wait, and the person speaking to them would maintain communication with them after stages of the process, get them to write responses, and things like that. Who is not present would depend on the wishes of the survivor. One thing that should be remembered here though is that the face to face meeting is an important way that the people who have caused harm or hurt can participate in restitution for the survivor, a means through which to personally take responsibility for the harm caused and repair or at least acknowledge the harm caused. Without face to face contact, you will need to think of other ways together that this can happen.


A restorative justice process should develop a plan for the future, aiming at the re-integration of survivor and perpetrator into the community. It should be the product of the communication and agreements that happen as part of the process.


Any model for a restorative justice process should be restorative in its nature and reflect the underlying aims and ideas of restorative justice  – the development of the process should happen with input and communication between the different people that are involved. The survivor and other people involved in the conflict should develop the process that is used to deal with the conflict – this might also be an important way for the survivor to regain control over their life and feel empowered. People involved in the process should also become familiar with and understand the aims of restorative justice.


It is important to remember that a restorative justice process might lead to various different things – outcomes of the process may include someone going to professional counselling, making a public account of their experiences, writing zines about stuff, making personal commitments about how they will behave in public spaces and which public spaces they will enter, taking part in an ongoing communication process with certain people about the extent to which they are holding to the agreed outcomes, and so on. It is an ongoing and long lasting thing – conflicts are never just ‘resolved’. The outcome usually involves an ongoing healing process and an ongoing commitment to change behaviour and to instigate change in the wider community. This doesn’t stop – it is a constant, and should always be happening.


1 Comment

  1. Modeling » Restorative Justice said,

    […] "Ken Vollmer" wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptRestorative justice is an idea about justice and a model for working through conflicts. It is only one model or idea about justice and conflict resolution – there are heaps of others. But there are at least interesting things you can … […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: