A case of mistaken identity

On the day before the conference began I was walking through the market in Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico with friends Katia Cecilia Ornelas-Núñez and Nuri Nusrat. When we emerged from the church on the square, two men were staring at me. We ignored them and began to walk away but they approached us, identifying themselves as journalists.

Someone had called their office to say that prominent poet and human rights activist Javier Sicilia was in town. Apparently I look like him; both of us have gray beards, wear glasses, and wear similar hats.


Javier Sicilia

We convinced the journalists that I was not Sicilia, but then they approached us again in the market and one of them, Marco Esquivel, asked if he could take a picture with me, explaining the resemblance to Sicilia. He next proceeded to interview me and became intrigued with restorative justice.

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July 15th, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Restorative justice in education – possibilities, but also concerns

The following is a guest blog post by our colleague in the EMU Education Department, Kathy Evans.

There is a great deal of momentum right now for implementing restorative justice in education. This makes me incredibly excited – and a bit nervous.


Let’s start with the good news! RJ is gaining lots of attention in education. Recently, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education came together to issue a colleague letter alerting schools that they can be cited for disproportionately disciplining students in certain categories. These federal agencies then recommended restorative justice as one way to address disproportionate discipline in schools!

Schools across the nation, from California to Virginia, are moving to replace their zero tolerance policies with restorative justice approaches. Every week, I get notices about school-based restorative justice programs popping up. That’s exciting! Closer to home, EMU has just begun the nation’s first graduate program specifically focusing on Restorative Justice in Education (RJE). It’s a great time to be an educator who is looking to implement RJ!

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June 26th, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Reflections on reconciliation and forgiveness

The following is a guest blog post by CJP graduate Sanjay Pulipaka.  A short bio can be found at the end.

Sanjay Pulipaka Photo

Often Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been initiated as a response to mass violence. It is interesting to note that the phrase “reconciliation commission” is used in responses to mass violence but not ‘forgiveness commission.” Why is that so?

What is forgiveness? When a victim stops feeling anger, resentment, and/or refrains from seeking compensation for crime/misconduct/misdeed perpetrated by an offender/individual, then it is deemed that forgiveness has come into play. Forgiveness is essentially an act of a victim. Forgiveness can be unilateral wherein an individual or group of people may bestow it on others without an explicit request for it. Sometimes, forgiveness is initiated when an individual acknowledges that their actions may have resulted in unwarranted infliction of pain/suffering and seeks normalization of a relationship.

Forgiveness necessitates that the anger in a relationship should be addressed. However, does transcending grief constitute an essential component of forgiveness? Is it possible to grieve and yet forgive? Is there a possibility that sustained grief may prompt individuals to rescind their forgiveness? I don’t have answers for these questions.

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June 18th, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

What are your “core texts” for restorative justice?

Changing Lenses:  A New Focus for Crime and Justice, initially published in 1990, is often viewed as a foundational work in the restorative justice field.   It has gone through several editions, and now the publishers plan to release an “anniversary edition” next year, the 25th year since its first release.

I need your help.  I would like to include a bibliography of essential reading, developed from suggestions by people in the field.

What are your favorite texts?  What reading do you consider essential to understand the concept and practice of restorative justice? You can add your suggestions as comments below or, if you prefer, email them to me.

Thanks for your help!


June 5th, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Restorative Justice)

Restorative justice and the arts

Don’t miss our webinar next week!

How can artistic practices and approaches be applied in restorative justice? In what ways might restorative approaches and principles inform artistic practices? In this webinar, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program will provide a case study in the intersection of socially-engaged art and restorative justice.

The Mural Arts Program incorporates the theory of restorative justice in providing art instruction, mural making, community service work and a paid work program, (the Guild) within the criminal justice system. Inmates, returning citizens and juveniles are afforded the opportunity to learn new skills and make a positive contribution to their communities to repair prior harm caused, reclaim public spaces, develop competency skills and engage victims of crime in dialog. The Mural Arts Program has focused its Restorative Justice work in three areas: inside Graterford State Correctional Institution; with its Guild Program; and with the juvenile justice system.

Join Jane Golden, Executive Director, Robyn Buseman, Restorative Justice Program Director, and a program artist to learn more about the program and view the work.

Howard Zehr will facilitate the webinar.

Registration is free.

When: April 23, 2014, 4:30-6 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (United States)

April 16th, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Photography, Restorative Justice)

Restorative justice as a social movement: upcoming webinar

Our next webinar, entitled “Possibility or pipedream:  A restorative justice movement,” is coming up March 19, 2014.

Join us for a frank conversation between Dr. Dana Greene and Dr. Carl Stauffer exploring the unrealized revolutionary promise of restorative justice. They will examine the current direction of restorative justice in particular highlighting missteps all too reminiscent of past reforms. They will discuss tactics, strategies, assets, and as of yet neglected opportunities to use restorative justice to foment a social justice movement in the United States.

Carl and Dana have given considerable thought to social movements and the extent to which restorative justice is, or can be, a true movement.  Here is a chance to explore this important topic.

If the $10 charge is an issue, email Lindsay Martin Styer (lindsay.martinstyer@emu.edu) to have the fee waived.

Update: The webinar recording is now available.

March 13th, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Critical conversation with “The New Jim Crow” – next webinar

Real World Restorative Justice Webinar: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 4:30-6:00 p.m. EST

Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness,” has gained widespread attention for its compelling analysis of the relationship between mass incarceration and racism in the U.S. Join us as guests Jacqueline Roebuck Sahko, Shiv Desai and Nekima Levy-Pounds begin a dialogue about intersecting the lanes of education, race, discipline and community-centric practice. What strategies can folks on the ground adopt to address these issues? For more information and to register, visit http://emu.edu/cjp/restorative-justice/webinars/new-jim-crow/


February 14th, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Where are the gaps? We need your help.

In the early days of the restorative justice field, from the late 1970s into the early 1990s, I was in a unique position to resource this emerging field. As Director of the Office on Crime and Justice of Mennonite Central Committee U.S (MCC), my mandate was to do what needed to be done.

Although the program’s staff was very small (usually a part-time assistant and me) and was not endowed with huge funding, I had time and sufficient financial resources to create materials, organize gatherings or conferences, and to help communities that asked for assistance in understanding and implementing restorative justice projects. I also had access to the significant publication and communication capabilities of MCC. Part of that time, MCC Canada had a similar office and we often collaborated.  Before undertaking any major initiative, I would usually call upon a small group of ad hoc advisors for their feedback. My primary focus was upon communities and and practitioners.

When trying to decide what needed to be done, and where to focus resources and energy, I asked a series of questions: 1) Where is the field going?   2) What does it need to move ahead, and most importantly, 3) What are the gaps? That is, what needs to be done that isn’t being done and that our small program might be able to address? In other words, I tried to avoid duplicating efforts and focused on pieces that I felt were missing.

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January 3rd, 2014 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Restorative Justice)

Reflections on Mandela

“Have you heard that Mandela died?” The staggering impact of this question took my breath away as I stepped into the office after teaching a full day of classes at Eastern Mennonite University on Thursday, December 5th. I texted my daughter who had grown up in South Africa, with these simple words, “Wow – this is huge!” Mourning the enormous loss of Mandela has evoked memories of living in South Africa from 1994 to 2009.

During my first two of 16 years living in South Africa, I was privileged to shadow a great mentor, Morontshi Matsobane, who spent 14 years in the prime of his life (ages 26-40) in prison for his political activity – 12 of those years were spent on Robben Island with Mandela.

Morontshi was released in 1990, just three months after Mandela. Shedding bitterness and hate, he immediately returned to the community organizing and development work that put him in prison to begin with. I observed Morontshi patiently mediate peace and security needs in a transitional period marred by violence as the country struggled for its dignity and the equal redistribution of land, labor, and livelihoods. In many of these negotiations, he was interacting with the very apartheid ‘security’ apparatus responsible for his harassment, arrest and eventual imprisonment. Morontshi is one of the most gracious, forgiving and kind souls I know. He is one of many persons who we called a “little Mandela” – and there were many like him.

As the example of Morontshi demonstrates, Mandela and his ways have taken root in the collective psyche of South Africa and have changed much of the world’s psyche. He embodied what it meant to live with integrity and with few regrets. Indeed, his leadership presence seemed to be encoded with the moral fiber that now guides conceptions of good governance and just polity at a global level. Mandela transmitted his DNA to us. And herein lies the hope.

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December 16th, 2013 – by Carl Stauffer Stauffer (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Restorative justice and the Gandhian tradition

I recently had occasion to reflect on some of the points of resonance between restorative justice and the Gandhian tradition.  I am particularly grateful for the help of my friend Sujatha Baliga in this.

As a Mennonite, I grew up in a family and a tradition of nonviolence and peacemaking, and knew something of Gandhi.  However, it was as a student at Morehouse College, during the civil rights era, that I engaged more deeply.  It was there that my understanding of the Gandhian tradition was mediated through the work and example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (whom I had the privilege to meet), Dr. Vincent Harding (a long-time influence on my life), my professors and the civil rights activists with whom I came in contact.

Many observers (and not only those within what has been called the “peacemaking criminology” tradition) have noted that our criminal justice system is based on, and enforced by, violence or the threat of violence.  Political scientists often point out that the basis of the modern state is the “legitimate monopoly on violence.” The criminal justice system is a major player in enacting and expressing this:  “You’ve harmed us, so we will harm you.”

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October 23rd, 2013 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)