Restorative Justice: many of you have heard of it, some have experienced it, and likely some have never heard of it. Restorative Justice is a model for handling breaches in community, times when covenant has been broken or is perceived to have been broken, conflict between parties, and rule infractions. It is an approach that seeks to engage those affected in conversation with each other with the assistance of trained facilitators, with the goal of restoring and maintaining community, and extending care and compassion to all involved.
You may have heard the term Restorative Justice used in reference to newly emerging models for criminal justice systems. But it is much more than that; it is a model that can be, and has been, adapted for use in schools, faith communities, neighborhoods, and workplaces. We think there is space for it to work for us too.
The youth and young adults of the Ohio Meadville District community, in particular, have been leading the way in bringing a Restorative Justice model to our larger community. Because the intentional community that we come together to create each summer can potentially be harmed by breaches of covenant, the youth and young adults wanted to find a method of resolving conflict in which the ultimate goal is restoring what was broken and helping the community move forward together.Last year, several youth, young adults, and adults participated in a day long training session about how to practice Restorative Justice. They began putting that training into practice at the 2015 SI. You may have heard talk of, or participated in, a “Circle”. The youth and young adults held several Restorative Justice Circles that week and at times since then.
Over the coming months and years, you will hear more about these circles, their goals, and how they work in practice. We are also working on making further training available to the community at large. There is much information to be gathered, shared, learned, and discussed.
Because the Restorative Justice model provides an alternative to the larger culture’s often punitive and exclusionary systems of approaching conflict and rule infractions, our hope is that it can be adapted to our needs, helping us approach conflict in a way that is more in line with our Unitarian Universalist principles than we may have at times in the past. The goal of this post is to serve as a brief introduction to the concept of Restorative Justice Circles, and to invite you to watch this space for more information.
A few important things to know as we begin this conversation are that participation in Restorative Justice Circles will always be completely optional for all involved, although circles may take place with or without the requested participants. Additionally, anyone is able to request that a circle be called, which opens the process to all who want to participate, but makes it mandatory for none.
If you are anxious to start learning more now, you might want to take a look at this site: http://www.restorativecircles.org/.
We have much to learn, and many opportunities to grow together. Let’s see where we go.
Gina Phillips and Krissy Brannan, SIPC