“Conflict is not a problem that needs solving but a phenomenon that needs understanding.” ~Dominic Barter
Restorative Justice is a roughly 40-year international movement consisting of a variety of different restorative practices from all over the world, many of which have indigenous roots. While the specifics vary from practice to practice, at the heart of it, restorative practices provide an alternative (or additional) approach to the punitive systems that currently dominate most Western mainstream societies’ approach to crime and conflict.
Rather than focusing on assigning blame and administering punishment, restorative practices typically bring together the parties involved and impacted by what happened for the purpose of mutual understanding (of what happened and the harm that occurred) and working together to fix the harm and, if necessary, restore the relationships.
Restorative Circles are a specific restorative practice developed in the favelas of Brazil by Dominic Barter and his associates. According to Barter, a Restorative Circle is a community process for supporting those in conflict. It brings together (within a chosen systemic context) the three parties to a conflict:(1) those who have acted
(2) those directly targeted by the action and
(3)the community members who may have created conditions for the harm to have happened and/or who feel impacted by the conflict or its consequences.
Restorative Circles are facilitated by circle-keepers of facilitators who ideally come directly from the community in which the act occurred. They commit to serving the emergent wisdom of the participants through their willingness to offer agreed upon questions and to track the co-creation of meaning and action by those present. Participants invite each other and attend voluntarily. The dialogue process used is shared openly with all participants. The process ends when actions have been found that bring mutual benefit that nurtures the inherent integrity of all those involved in the conflict. Restorative Circles are facilitated in three stages that arise in an approximate sequence and identify the key factors in the conflict, reach agreements on next steps, and evaluate the results. As circles form, they invite shared power, mutual understanding and self-responsibility within community.
Below are three pieces I've written or co-written about Restorative Justice (with a focus on Restorative Circles) that I recommend for those who are first coming to this work. The last two are likely to also be of interest to more experienced RJ practitioners and scholars.
- Our Justice System Requires Us To Punish Wrongdoers. What If There Were a Better Way? Short blog post in Psychology Today. Read this if you want something short.
- Restorative Justice for Trayvon Martin Academic article in Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology). Read this if you want something more in-depth.
- Restoring Racial Justice Academic article (co-written with Fania Davis and Mara Schiff) summarizing past work and current frontiers of restorative justice responses to racial inequities. Read this if interested in overlap between racial justice and restorative justice.
Links to learn more
- Restorative Justice Readings and Resources This is what I recommend to read and/or watch about RJ, by topic. It is not designed to be comprehensive.
- Restorative Circles Resource Page I've compiled links to every piece of writing and online RC resource I know about.
- Restorative Circles Homepage This is the official RC website, maintained by Dominic Barter.