A three-year project to envision and map a positive future for restorative justice began in mid-2015 with a five-day meeting of 36 people drawn from a wide range of backgrounds by the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).
“We sought to bring together a cross-section of restorative justice practitioners, theorists and innovators,” said Carl Stauffer, co-director of the Zehr Institute and the project’s leader. “Some of the invitees were world-recognized in the restorative justice field, but others were invited to ensure that diverse and often-unheard voices would be represented.”
One-third of the 36 participants were from populations that are under threat socially and economically in their regions of the world. The genders were equally represented. One person was under age 21, though two other young adults had been expected to attend.
Conversing about RJ’s ‘revolutionary intent’
The idea behind the unusual mixture of invitees was to foster provocative conversation about the possibilities for restorative justice (RJ), particularly for addressing structural injustices, said Stauffer.
In the prospectus for the three-year project submitted to the funder, Porticus, the organizers wrote: “On the social margins, there is growing research and experimentation with RJ as a tool for addressing structural harms and injustices. This project will explore and document these emerging practices in order to recapture the revolutionary intent of RJ.”
The organizers called attention in their prospectus to what they viewed as the danger of RJ settling into a “social service practice” centering on “repair at the micro-interpersonal level.” Instead, they wished to highlight the ways that RJ can “provide a coherent framework for transforming macro-social structures that cause harm.”
Aware that many of the 36 attendees at the first consultation would not have prior relationships with each other, the organizers devoted about half of the five days to exercises and facilitated conversations designed to establish trust and a common basis for exploring future possibilities. Senior graduate students at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding served as facilitators for the process.
First, the attendees prepared a history line of RJ, then they explored identity, power and privilege in the field. On the third day, they embarked on a discussion of best practices.
“We accepted the challenge of bringing together a highly diverse group, especially given that many of the participants are international leaders in the field, [being] accomplished researchers, authors, practitioners and facilitators in their own right,” Stauffer said.
“The challenge was heightened because the group grew beyond the original envisioned size of 20 to 25,” he added. “We needed to go well beyond 25 to have a true cross-section of voices, but it was difficult to develop coherence among three dozen people with strong opinions, especially in only five days.”
Yet the participants were largely positive in their final evaluations, he said, indicating that they had not regretted investing a workweek in wrestling with each other over tough questions, such as the extent to which RJ should be viewed as a social movement, as opposed to simply a set of restorative practices.
Stauffer did not pretend to be neutral on this last point. In his opening remarks to the group, he referred to the U.S. penal reform movement having been “co-opted.” In contrast, he said he hopes RJ continues to grow into a social movement in North America, with the aim of “transforming deep structural conflicts and injustices.” Toward this end, North Americans have much to learn from their international brothers and sisters about “large-scale applications” of RJ, he said.
Agreement on RJ’s core values
For a social movement to be successful, Stauffer told the group, it requires political opportunity, resource mobilization, a framing message, and critical mass (or a “tipping point”).
On the last day, in a final small-group presentation, a participant observed that the 36 attendees had largely agreed during the week on RJ’s core values, but not necessarily on how to practice restorative justice.
This first consultation will be followed next year by a public conference attended by up to 120 people. Next time, Stauffer said, his organizing team will work to create a conference format that moves participants more quickly into discussions on the future of the field, with a view of moving into a research and writing phase in the final year of the project.
Participants in the consultation
The 36 participants were:
- Aaron Lyons, Fraser Region Community, Justice Initiatives, Canada
- Ali Gohar, Just Peace Initiatives, Pakistan
- Barb Toews, University of Washington Tacoma / Designing Justice+Designing Spaces, USA
- Barry Hart, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, EMU
- Brenda E. Morrison, Centre for Restorative Justice, Simon Fraser University, USA
- Carl Stauffer, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, EMU
- Carolyn Boyes-Watson, Center for Restorative Justice, Suffolk University, USA
- Catherine Bargen, Restorative Justice Coordinator Crime Prevention and Victim Services Division, Government of British Columbia, Canada
- Dan Van Ness, Center for Justice and Reconciliation, Prison Fellowship International, USA
- David Anderson Hooker, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, EMU and Atlanta (Ga.) consultant, USA
- Fania Davis, executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland (Calif.) Youth, USA
- Cameron Simmons, youth worker with Restorative Justice for Oakland (Calif.) Youth, USA
- Gerry Johnstone, University of Hull, UK
- Howard Zehr, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, EMU
- Jeanette Martinez, Circle of Justice LLC, New Mexico, USA
- Jennifer Graville , Community Conferencing Program, KBF Center for Conflict Resolution (Md.), USA
- Jodie-Ann (Jodie) Geddes, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, EMU
- Josh Bacon, James Madison University (Va.), USA
- Kathy Evans, Eastern Mennonite University
- Katia Ornelas, Independent Consultant, Mexico
- Katie Mansfield, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR), EMU
- Kay Pranis, Circle Trainer, USA
- Kim Workman, Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies, Victoria, University of Wellington, New Zealand
- Linda Kligman, Vice President for Advancement, International Institute for Restorative Practices, USA
- Lorenn Walker, Hawai’i Friends of Restorative Justice, USA
- Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Mennonite Central Committee, USA
- Mark Umbreit, Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking, University of Minnesota, School of Social Work, USA
- Matthew Hartman, Clackamas County Juvenile Department, Restorative Justice Coalition of Oregon, NW Justice Forum, USA
- Mulanda Jimmy Juma, Africa Peacebuilding Institute, St. Augustine College of South Africa
- Najla El Mangoush, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, EMU
- Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation, USA
- Seth Lennon Weiner, Porticus, New York, USA
- sujatha baliga, Impact Justice, USA
- Susan Sharpe, Advisor on Restorative Justice, Center for Social Concerns, University of Notre Dame, USA
- Theo Gavrielides, The IARS International Institute and the Restorative Justice for All Institute, UK
- Vernon Jantzi, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR), EMU
The facilitators were led by project manager Soula Pefkaros, and included CJP graduate students Janine Aberg, South Africa; Michael McAndrew, USA; Jordan Michelson, USA; Mikhala Lantz-Simmons, USA; and Ahmed Tarik, Iraq.