By Cindy Garwood
Restorative practices are inspired by and rooted in Indigenous, Native and ancient wisdom cultures and traditions. In the 1970s, a variety of programs and approaches emerged in thousands of communities and many countries throughout the world.
Generally speaking, the aim of restorative practices is to build relationships and community, solve problems, transform conflict, and when harm occurs, restorative justice is a process which seeks to repair the harm and restore relationships.
Restorative justice is more of a compass than a map, because it is a paradigm shift from a punitive approach to wrong doing toward a more restorative approach, as described by Howard Zehr in, “The Little Book of Restorative Justice.”
The questions we ask change from what law was broken? Who did it? And how do we punish them? To who was harmed? What do they need? And whose obligations are these? It is about healing and moving forward for all those involved: victims, offenders and the community.
Some victims of crime have reported that even when the offender who harmed them and/or their family receives the full extent of punishment allowed by law, they do not feel better, no healing has occurred, and they continue to suffer.
The restorative justice process is voluntary and offers an alternative way. Research reveals that when this approach is used, a voluntary process for offenders as well, the likelihood of future offenses is reduced.
A misconception may be that restorative justice is soft on crime or wrong doing. This is not soft justice, by any means. It is about responsibility and accountability.
Actions and/or reparations could include a time of incarceration, financial restitution, time spent to fix what they broke, an apology or any number of other possibilities that come out of this intentional process which has included those harmed, those causing the harm, potentially family members, and often times, community members.
Many schools across the country and world have incorporated restorative practices into their school communities.
Benefits include building connection and belonging, strengthened relationships, empathy and communication skill development, reinforcement of self-regulation and viewing conflicts as learning opportunities.
Because the focus is on the need to repair harm and restore relationships, they are well suited to have positive outcomes with discipline issues.
About the author: Cindy Garwood is a local social worker with 30 years of experience, specializing in restorative justice and parent education. She is a licensed restorative practices facilitator and trainer through the International Institute of Restorative Practices.