At the same time, solidify your relationships with justice system stakeholders. Invite police chiefs and officers, local court
representatives, and elected officials to your events. Ask what
issues they see in the community and whether they can imagine restorative solutions. Expect wariness among those who
work in criminal justice, and listen carefully—not to refute objections but to understand perspectives and concerns that you will
need to address to launch RJ.
By now you’ll know not everyone believes as you do that
RJ has merit. Even if a judge or a police chief says let’s do it,
you’ll likely find that not all officers are eager or even willing
to participate. Some will worry your approach is “too soft” or
“touchy-feely.” For some, it’s too far a leap from their view of
law and order. Court clerks and probation officers may think
they’re already “doing enough” for offenders, that RJ would
be overkill. Seldom do doubters bring up victims, not because
they don’t care about them, but because they assume the
system is doing all it can.
Convincing doubters may seem a daunting challenge. Don’t
be daunted. Listen and lure. Providing statistics and information
about recidivism and successes elsewhere won’t necessarily
dispel doubts about RJ working in your community. Hear their
concerns and ask if they’ll just give it a try. Most criminal justice
stakeholders are at least assuaged when they see that in an RJ
process, accountability is central. Many restorative agreements
ask more of offenders than the court would, and they nearly
always include measures meaningful to the harm-doers as well
as those harmed. People who have been harmed get a chance
to speak and ask questions, and to have a voice about what will
happen. The most effective thing you can do to bring doubters
around is to include them.
Training with someone well-versed and experienced in
restorative practices is essential. It’s not as easy as it looks
on a video, in a book, or from hearing a talk about the principles. You want the benefit of others’ experience, their
successes and missteps. Ensure you have access to advice
and support as you grow.
Check first with other nearby RJ groups about training. If
they can send someone to provide introductory training for
everyone in your group, great. But if that’s not possible, see
if you can send your group members to trainings offered by
more distant organizations. This may be the first thing you’ll
need to fundraise for. Some colleges and universities offer
courses in conflict transformation that may include instruction about restorative justice. This may be broader than what
you’re looking for, but it’s worth asking about certification
courses. Check with organizations that train mediators about
whether they also focus on restorative processes.
A basic training will show you what a process looks like and
provide a window into the perspectives of participants—people
affected by crime, harm-doers, parents and loved ones, and
criminal justice stakeholders. Training should include review of
the principles and detailed descriptions of the processes you’ll
use—talking rounds and restorative agreements, for instance.
It will illustrate the need for guidelines or ground rules, and for
preparation. It’s important to interview all participants before an
RJ process so you understand what is likely to come up and so
you can describe to each prospective participant what a circle or
conference is like.
Training should al ways include role-playing exercises so all can
see—and feel—what’s entailed. Ask your trainer whether s/he
has a scenario that can be acted out. Or devise one of your own,
perhaps based on a real event in your community. Many people
cringe at the thought of role-play but, if everyone commits to
playing their parts with fidelity, all can learn, not just about the
nuts and bolts of the process, but about the emotional content.
Role-play can be a great empathy builder. If role-play makes
you nervous, that’s useful, because everyone in a restorative
process is going to be nervous.
From this training your first keepers, or facilitators, will
emerge. Others will become interested in coordinating roles.
Even those who decide they don’t want to be active participants will be informed and can become effective advocates
of RJ in the community. Further, training will help your group
develop criteria for accepting the cases that come your way.
What you’ve learned from citizens and other possible referral sources will shape the kind of program you will start: will you
offer restorative justice processes following specific instances
of harm-doing? Or will you instead or in addition provide
broader restorative conferences in the community to discuss
ongoing issues? What process or processes will work best in
your community: a circle approach, a family-group conference,
or victim-offender mediation?
Think about the criteria for accepting a case. Most programs
have among their referral criteria that (a) harm-doers must
A basic training will show you what a process
looks like and provide a window into the
perspectives of participants—people affected
by crime, harm-doers, parents and loved ones,
and criminal justice stakeholders.