The traditional justice system is getting overburdened and overwhelmed. Is there an answer?
Justice Circles (sometimes called Restorative Circles, Restorative Justice, or Restorative Practice) can serve as an alternative approach to discipline issues in schools and other organizations. The approach has demonstrated excellent change in school climate regarding significant reductions in assaults on students, assaults on teachers, and disorderly conduct (click here for more).
The process pivots on the axiom that youth are much more responsive to justice that is done with them rather than to them. The concept of the Justice Circles allows youth offenders to be accountable for their actions and take responsibility for what they have done. There is usually a restoration component or payback due from the offender to the victim. Offenders must be willing to "make things right," with their victims.
One type of comparison may resemble the summary below:
- Circle of Justice - Builds student connectivity ahead of time and is designed to create accountability in the offender. It seeks healing and closure and aims for a change of heart. Depending on the situation, a monetary compensation to the offended party may be negotiated. An apology is required. The offender faces his or her accusers and others who can serve to advise and help. The process is not expensive.
- Traditional Justice - A youth may appear before a judge who reviews the case and passes a consequence. In the youth counter-culture, this and other standard school penalties (including suspension and expulsion) are often worn on the sleeve as a "badge of honor." There is usually no apology and no compensation to the victim. The offender is separated from the accusers. The process can be much more expensive.
The Circle of Justice operates by concurrently utilizing the principles of love, law, and learning. Members of the circle commit to operate by respect and civility. The idea is to find a just solution. All parties are validated, heard, and come to a consensus. Each member is treated as an equal. The key variable is remorse. An offender who is able to feel remorse for wrong actions can more likely leave the experience with a reformed sense about himself or herself.
A trained facilitator most often runs the sessions. They are designed so that both the offender's and the victim's stories come out. Usually all parties involved attend (offender, victim, parents, administration, teachers, witnesses, etc.). Recidivism rate in some cases have been reported as low as ten percent.
The following providers represent a sampling of organizations that offer trainings that utilize the same type of philosophy as Circles of Justice:
Reclaiming Youth International
PO Box 57
104 N. Main Street
Lennox, SD 57039
This training recognizes that there are four essential elements every child needs; belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. It also reflects contemporary developments in neuroscience. The courses are designed for adults who set up a positive non-punitive peer climate, connect with youth, and restore bonds of respect. They are designed to serve children and youth who are in emotional pain from conflict. Trainings include (but are not limited to) Response Abilities Pathways (RAP), Circle of Courage, Deep Brain Learning, Life Space Crisis Intervention, Effective Leadership, and Developmental Audit.
International Institute for Restorative Practices Graduate School
531 Main St.
Bethlehem, PA 18018
A cross-section of training/education is available including a Masters Degree in Restorative Practices in addition to a variety school professional development – both inside and outside the United States. Many books, videos, and other educational resources are available. World conferences are held yearly. Training programs include (but are not limited to) Safer Saner Schools, Real Justice, Building Campus Community, and School-Based Restorative Zones.
Restorative Justice Center
Second Street, Suite 108
River Falls, WI 54022
The Restorative Justice Center mostly serves Wisconsin and Minnesota, but can do trainings out of the area as well. It utilizes volunteers in the community to address problems caused by conflict and crime. Services include (but are not limited to) Victim Impact Panels, Restorative Response Circles, Victim-Offender Conferencing, and Victim Empathy Seminars. They specialize in Restorative Justice Circles and School-based Restorative Justice.