About the Author
has been a
practitioner for 15
years. She was
which works with
holding circles in
Today she works
a facilitator and as
a trainer, helping
has also worked
with schools to
introduce circles for
No two restorative justice programs are alike.
No templates exist, but key elements underlie
successful programs, whether homegrown and
community- based or initiated by affiliation with the
criminal justice system.
From my experience in a program started and nurtured by civic-minded individuals (Communities for
Restorative Justice in Massachusetts, www.c4rj.com),
and from talks with other similar programs, I suggest
these elements for success:
• Becoming Informed
• Building Awareness, Building
You’ve heard about RJ and think: “I want to bring that
to my community. I’ll call my friends and recruit them.”
But then what? You need to learn, not only about RJ,
but also about your community’s needs.
“You need to go broad and deep,” says Luke Yoder,
executive director of the Center for Restorative Pro-
grams in Alamosa, Colorado. The Center started 20
years ago as a collection of interested folks, and grew
to a staffed program offering several approaches with
the courts and other agencies. Depth, says Yoder,
comes from “really getting to know how institutions
are functioning in your community, looking at the
schools, [court] diversion, and at the needs of the jus-
Don’t assume one approach will fit all ills or fill all
perceived gaps in local services. Persuading others
to try RJ will go better if you know what stakeholders
really want to accomplish.
Make sure your group members have a way of
learning about restorative justice, both the principles
and the wide variety of practices. Some communities
start with a study group, with members dividing up
books, articles, and videos, and presenting information to each other for discussion. If you’re fortunate
enough to have an ongoing RJ program in your region,
reach out to its director and ask for advice and
whether it’s possible to obtain training or to observe
that program’s process. Most RJ folks are eager to talk
about their work.
Then group members get in touch with local
judges and other court personnel, police, prosecutors, and school personnel. Some community
resources might include human rights organizations,
prison outreach programs, citizen groups like the
League of Women Voters, or faith communities with
social action committees.
The purpose: learning (a) how justice is perceived in the community and (b) what unmet
needs restorative justice could help fill. Do crime
victims have an opportunity to ask questions about
what happened to them? Are there groups that
do not have sufficient access to institutions? Is
law enforcement perceived as approachable? Are
there perceived differences in how some citizens
are treated? Are young harm-doers treated in a
manner that takes into account their developmental needs? Are mental health facilities available to
assist victims or harm- doers?
It’s important to find out what other groups are
working to provide related services to the community.
Individuals from such endeavors can be important
allies in moving RJ forward. If others are already quietly pursuing restorative justice, you’ll want to know
what they have already done—rather than running athwart of those efforts and possibly confusing
BUILDING AWARENESS, BUILDING
If you’ve already reached out to local people about
justice, you’ve started some relationships. Now it’s
time to let the wider community know about RJ. Consider holding a community forum with a speaker,
preferably an experienced practitioner. Group members can also seek invitations to speak to other
organizations: faith groups, civic and service organizations, parent-teacher organizations, mediation
groups, and even book groups.
These meetings spread the word about restorative justice and gather input. They lay the
groundwork for later fundraising—and are a great
way to recruit volunteers. You’ll likely learn of
community members who’ve had experiences
they’re willing to speak about at future meetings.
Storytelling is a powerful way to illustrate positive
experiences as well as unmet local needs.
Starting a Restorative Justice Program
Begin by getting to know your community’s needs