Keeping it real restorative justice, 5 criteria for a solid program.

I used to train on the topic of ‘Real Restorative Justice’.  My mission was to make sure that people understood what it really meant to be doing or promoting restorative justice.  Seven, 8 years ago there was a trend to call things ‘restorative’ just because they were a slight variation from the formal process.  I have blogged before on the realness of restorative justice here,  here and here.

Another page of this blog, lists the mission, vision and values of SCVRJP and these were best practices circulated in a grant application for Restorative Justice in Minnesota.  I point these items out because they may be resources for you.  I want you to know I have done my research, lived these concepts and created successful programs around them.  So 5 criteria for you in creating a truly restorative justice program.

1.) Define your criteria.  Restorative justice is yes, a philosophical approach, YET specific processes are how we do Restorative Justice.  At the realist is a Circle or a conference.  The next step is to get criteria for your Circle or conference.  I recently saw a Circle demonstration and their was no open, no close, the talking piece was used as a way to take turns asking questions.  There was no preparation put into the people attending.  Have criteria, stick to those criteria.  The pre-mentioned blog entries will direct you to resources.

2.)Build a solid base, don’t ride magic carpets – Build a program around restorative justice.  Do restorative justice, promote restorative justice, BE restorative in your words and speech.  Funding can be a magic carpet.  It takes you on a short journey.  Funding dries up, programs dry up.  It takes WORK to make a program go successfully.  If you stop doing victim-offender conferences because of no funding, but start doing peer court because the funding is there, you’ve hopped on a magic carpet.

3.) Restorative value – connectedness – if you build a program and it does well, it helps mine.  If you water down what you are doing and call it restorative justice and you’ve stopped working to engage victims, your loss is my loss.  Remember that Restorative Justice is a movement, if we are going to gain leverage, respect and really change the overall criminal justice system, we need consistent players.  The Restorative Justice experience in River Falls WI should not be that different in Minneapolis or Madison.  It should seem the same as the experience in North Carolina.

4.)Get the right people around youJim Collins calls it getting the right people on the bus.  Good to Great for the Social Sector, is a book about taking your organization to the best level.  Work on making sure you have restorative staff, restorative board members that people around you understand and hold passion for real restorative justice.  These connections will help.  I just helped with a Sunday sermon, which in turn helped me. (post pending).

5.)Give a damn. If that sounds harsh, it was meant to be a little angry.  CARE about this stuff!  Think long-term.  I just read a restorative justice apology letter, and it was void of any mention of an “ah-ha” or a community member.  It was a person telling what they had done.  If you simply focus on the outcome (apology letter) and not the experience (transformation/understanding) then you haven’t really reached real restorative justice.  I get a little secret disappointment if someone doesn’t choke up in a circle!  You’ve got to infuse so much CARE into your program that values like love, honesty, respect, understanding can get to the surface.  Don’t just stay on the surface.  Take the time and energy to promote values and get the values in action in your circle.

Good luck with your program.  Good intentions are only half the battle when it comes to changing the way we relate and respond to people who have broken the law or caused conflict.  And just as practitioner we realize people can change, sometimes we need to make change and keep it real restorative justice.