acknowledge their role in the harm and (b) victims are willing to
have the case referred for restorative justice. Think about whether
you will hold a process if a victim assents to the referral but does
not want to participate directly. How can you represent the victim’s concerns in their absence? Ensure your potential referral
partners know what those criteria are.
What level of harms and crime will your group take up? Most
court diversion programs will consider diversion only for first-time (usually young) offenders who’ve committed nonviolent
misdemeanors and low-level felonies (usually falling under a certain dollar amount of damage). Thus, many RJ programs are also
limited to those criteria. That may be a good starting point as you
begin your restorative justice work, but there are good reasons to
look beyond that as you build your capabilities.
For instance, theft of a smart phone likely transcends the
definition by most states of a low-level felony, but restorative
processes very effectively address this type of theft, which has
a clear personal impact for the victim. Some assaults are very
appropriate for restorative justice. A caveat: Restorative justice
programs usually draw the line at dating-and-domestic violence
cases because of the particular relationship dynamics common
to such incidents.
Restorative justice shouldn’t be withheld from a victim just
because the wrongdoer(s) have been in trouble before. “Repeat
offenders” often benefit from RJ: making full restitution and
doing so more quickly than the court would have ordered; getting needed services; improving relations with family members,
and being able to acknowledge more fully the effects of their
actions—thus enabling them to make much more meaningful
apologies to those affected.
Will you accept referrals of youth only, or will you also accept
young adults? Some programs include 18- to 24-year-olds in
youth diversion approaches, recognizing that the brain is still
“maturing” until kids reach 25. Will you accept all ages?
Will you accept referrals from law enforcement, from the
courts/probation, social service agencies, schools, after-school programs, businesses and other organizations? From
all or just one? It’s useful to start with one as you get up to
speed, but open to others as your group develops its skills and
Keep in mind that restorative justice should always be voluntary,
for harm-doers, affected parties, and others.
So you’ve laid the groundwork. You have group members trained
and willing to facilitate a process. You get a call from a law-enforce-ment agency, a probation officer, a prosecutor, or a community
organization saying they have a case that might be appropriate. Are
you ready? You may not believe that you are but, if you’ve trained
and practiced, and the case meets your group’s criteria, it’s time.
1. Ask the referral partner for all relevant case details:
names and contacts of harm-doers, direct victims, others
affected, and a representative for the referrer, for a narrative description of what occurred, and for any information
that will be helpful to a facilitator/keeper in preparing for
• Ask whether these potential participants
have been informed about the process. That’s
preferable to a cold call or letter from you.
2. Contact each person involved. Introduce yourself and ask
when they can meet individually to learn about the RJ process and for you to ask questions about what happened.
3. Carry out the interviews. Ask each party what they want
to communicate. Sometimes it’s helpful for participants to
think through and rehearse what they want to say. Ask
each for days and times convenient for them. Keep in mind
the importance of supporting the victim and honoring their
wishes. Ask what they hope to gain from the process.
4 Set the time and date. Arrange for a space that will accommodate the group, and any furnishings you want (chairs and
table or no table? Easels or white board?) You’ll probably
want a private space, as confidentiality is critical to the process and safety of all.
• Think about seating—who should sit next
• Will you have one or two facilitators?
• What questions will you ask to begin?
• What hurdles or flashpoints can you anticipate
and how might you prepare to deal with these?
• Have any parties suggested restorative
6. Circle/conference time! Assign members of your group to
greet and escort each participant. This is important if people
are showing up at the same time, especially if they are nervous around or hostile toward one another.
• Welcome people and explain what will occur.
• Review ground rules or ask the participants to
offer ideas for groundrules.
• Ask everyone to introduce him/herself.