A Justice That Heals: A Report Back From the 2018 International Restorative Justice Conference

As seen in Gandhi Institute reaches out to city school students, I first met George Cassiday Payne in 2013 at the In-School-Support room (formerly known as the In-School-Suspension room) at the Wilson Foundation Academy. There, George was facilitating the Wilson Nonviolence Education & Empowerment Program.

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East Counselor Brett Crandall and East School Social Worker Michelle Garcia. From Helping restore East through restorative classroom practices

Today, George is a domestic violence counseler in Rochester as well as a SUNY Humanities adjunct professor of philosophy.

Since that meeting, restorative justice — especially as practiced in city schools — has become an ongoing theme in the magazine. On restorative justice, Non-Violence Clubs and school discipline looks at various restorative approaches throughout the RCSD.

In Helping restore East through restorative classroom practices, I was invited to visit a 3 day training session on restorative practices, including Peace Circles, offered to all East teachers, psychologists, school counselors and social workers.

In “Crimes committed in schools will be pursued as crimes committed elsewhere”; An Open Letter to RCSD teachers from Brandon White. And restorative justice, we were happy to provide a platform for Northwest social studies teacher Brandon White. Brandon has created and facilitated several restorative justice programs at the Douglass campus.

Today, George reflects on the “Global Unity and Healing: Building Communities with a Restorative Approach” conference he recently attended.

 

A Justice That Heals: A Report Back From the 2018 International Restorative Justice Conference

From June 28-30, 2018, I had the opportunity to attend the International Restorative Justice ReformConference in Burlington, Vermont. The conference was entitled “Global Unity and Healing: Building Communities with a Restorative Approach” and it was sponsored by the Center for Justice and Reform at the Vermont Law School.

All over the world, individuals and organizations are engaged in a form of trauma informed conflict intervention called restorative justice. As a human practice of conflict transformation and peacemaking, RJ dates back at least 60,000 years. Many of the practices and frameworks that modern restorative theories are based on have been shaped by indigenous concepts of engagement, empowerment, community, and agency.

At its core, RJ is a response to social and personal harm that views all participants — both actors and receivers — as possessors of inherent dignity and value.

Like the current system that favors punitive methods such as zero tolerance laws, mandatory sentencing, mass incarceration, “enhanced interrogation,” state sanctioned torture, and the death penalty, RJ is a multifaceted system that touches everything from elementary school disciplinary policies to international acts of war and genocide.

Unlike the current system, RJ strives to achieve a set of goals that has a number of significant consequences antithetical to the status quo. For example, the restorative model approaches each “case” as an individual with unique experiences. The restorative model assumes that all human beings have freedom which allows them to shape their own future. Restorative justice systems are based on the belief that all humans are instinctively creative, relational, communicative, self-reflective, and responsible for their actions. The primary forms of communication may vary from person to person (e.g., sign, verbal, textual, artistic), but this mark of intelligence is fundamental to the entire restorative justice philosophy. In general, proponents of RJ ask: What does a justice that heals looks like? What would responses to injustice look like that don’t involve criminal justice assumptions, protocols and systems?

For a variety of reasons, the current system based on punishment and retribution is failing. To begin with, it treats people as belonging to groups rather than as individuals with unique needs. The current system imprisons as a knee jerk response, and it cuts off relationships as a mode of “rehabilitating.” The criminal justice model takes away the ability for both perpetrator and victim to have a voice; and it rejects creativity across the board. From the prosecution of a crime to the enforcement of laws, the goal of the criminal justice system is to deny self-agency in the decision making process and to take away personal responsibility from the legal and moral equation. The result: the U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s total prison. Population. In fact, the United States has more African-Americans incarcerated today than the South had slaves throughout the American Civil War.

Interestingly, the restorative justice model is not predicated on the belief that people are intrinsically spiritual. It says nothing at all about the reality of a soul. These are questions for theologians to debate.

Moreover, RJ does not say anything about human mortality, or assume anything about the essence of gender, race, sexual orientation, or class. These are all social constructions that do not alter the principles of RJ.

Nor does RJ assume that absolute morality exists. The pursuit of a justice that is founded on collaborative dialogue, trust, mutual awareness, courage and wisdom is not bound by ethical and religious perceptions. What makes RJ so effective is that it pronounces and stands by universal values. The only thing that matters in a restorative justice practice is the experience of healing, safety, and increased understanding.

For more information about restorative justice and organizations doing restorative justice work, please visit: Home – NACRJ – National Association of Community and Restorative Justice,  Vermont Law School | Vermont Law School, and Bay Area RJ Organizations | Restorative Justice Center at UC Berkeley

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