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Utilizing Restorative Justice

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Restorative Justice views crime and conflict as harm – harm to relationships. Relationships, once harmed, need repaired. Restorative Justice typically brings victims, offenders and community members together to process what happened and how to make things right.

I love Restorative Justice. I’ve been working directly as an Executive Director for nearly five years. I’ve had five years of full-time work completely devoted to what I see as art and science. I get to be surrounded in Restorative practice.

Prior to that, I implemented programs restorative in nature as a supervisor in human services. There are highly restorative processes and things on the end of the ‘restorative’ continuum. My work took a turn towards restorative after receiving training in victim-offender conferencing back in 1998.

Circles are the vehicles I choose to facilitate Restorative Justice. There are few ‘modes’ of transportation when using the overall Restorative Justice approach.

The most important aspects are involving those involved and using a collaborative approach. The most recent book, and currently my favorite, on Restorative Justice, is Restorative Justice is Changing the World, by Carol Harcarik.

A recent incident of harm has me re-examining myself. My student intern had her car vandalized. The suspected vandals are youth that were part of a community clean-up project. I don’t like what the young people did. I feel sorry for them being so angry that they would lash out.

I want the police called. She wants the police called. Our first reactions are that they need to pay. Then I play the tape ahead and watch the video in my mind. What will the future look like? I see it with Restorative Justice.

Unlike most cases that come to me, I don’t have a great deal of faith this will work. Now I am the skeptic I typically deal with. Like the people I work with to come to restorative justice (victims and community members), I have my information. This time I am much closer to the harm. (I’m not sure I will be the right person to facilitate, should we get this crime in Restorative Justice.) There is a lesson here for me. I get a much clearer sense of how victims might feel.

Usually vandalism is random and the perpetrators are not identified. This victim is pretty sure of who did this crime. I feel bad for her, knowing every time she walks up to her car she will be reminded of what harm was caused.

Then I think of this being expressed to the young vandals. Would they get that? Would their hearts soften to realize what they have done? Would a restorative process — where they get to explain what happened, what they were thinking, and how they think it can be made right — really bring a repairing? How do we, as a community, hold young people accountable to this in a way that would really make a meaningful change?

This is my day job, this is what I do all the time. I write grants, I bring people to the table, I believe in my heart in this process. I’m still feeling retributive.

I realize, as many victims do, my control of the situation is in my view and relationship to what happened. I can’t control the actions they took, but I control my own.

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About Kris Miner