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.
Sometimes this meant “palavers,” small dialogue gatherings bringing together practitioners and theorists to explore an issue. Often this meant a publication, such as “The VORP Book” that was a kind of how-to manual for starting and operating a victim offender dialogue program, or “Who is My Neighbor,” a small booklet to help churches become more aware of and involved with crime victims. I also edited a series of small booklets entitled “New Perspectives on Crime and Justice: Occasional Papers” that published works by Nils Christie, Herman Bianchi and others. My first published articulation of restorative justice, entitled “Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice,” was part of this series (1985).
Next month the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding here at EMU will bring together a handful of staff and advisers to consider the mission and activities of the new Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice. I will advocate that we use similar criteria: 1) Where is the field going? That is, what are its growth areas, its areas of stagnation and its challenges? 2) What does it need to move ahead and/or address these issues? 3) Most importantly for the Institute, what are the gaps that we might be able to address given our situation and resources? My bias continues to favor the needs of community-based efforts and practitioners.
What needs to be done? What are the gaps? I would love to receive your feedback in the Comments section below.