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The U.S. (in)Justice System Doesn't Work. The Alternative Just Might

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Talking is involved, so is listening. Lots of listening. But it's a decidedly different type of talk than people usually engage in, and it's not just talk.

The restorative process is designed to lead to voluntary (and they really are voluntary!) acts offered to repair or restore the relationship. The two words are not synonymous. Reparative acts have to do with compensation -- paying for a broken window is a reparative act -- while restorative acts are those whose value is largely symbolic, a heart-felt apology may qualify, or a basket of vegetables from one's garden, or an invitation to dinner. It's certainly not surprising that people prefer to have both, but it turns out, Barter explains, that if they can only have one, there is a strong preference for acts that are restorative.

And yet, restorative processes aren't, at the heart of it, about apologies or even about restorative acts more generally. They're about mutual understanding and connection. This is especially salient in racialized conflict. Such conflicts are often characterized by (legitimate) accusations of racial bias/prejudice, which, in turn, frequently trigger denial and defensiveness. As the conflict typically unfolds, no one feels heard or understood. At the end, the parties are usually more angry, hurt, and disconnected than ever.

Restorative processes offer an alternative, not just for criminal offenses (for which they are often used in addition to rather than instead of criminal trials) but for any conflict, great or small. Unlike retributive justice systems, restorative systems work because the people involved want to be there and are invested in the process, which allows the participants to not just understand each other but experience each other's humanity. That's why restorative acts are offered. That's why they're experienced as restorative.

Skeptical? I certainly was, and I wanted hard data, not personal testimonials. What I found was one empirical study after another that demonstrated the effectiveness of restorative systems. Indeed, a recent review of the research on restorative justice across multiple continents showed that restorative systems reduce recidivism in both violent and property crime in comparison to traditional justice systems and provide a variety of benefits to the "victims", including improved mental health and greater satisfaction with the justice process (Sherman & Strang, 2007).



Teachers learning RC, Rondonia, Brazil, 2007 by Dominic Barter



Such a profound process should be difficult to facilitate. It isn't. The power of RC rests in the process, and it is the structure of the process that creates change, not the facilitator, whose job is merely to create and hold the space for the process to unfold.

Barter says the facilitators he enjoys observing most are those under the age of 10. Why not? In Dominic Barter's world, schoolchildren spontaneously break out into a restorative circle during recess. It seems downright inconceivable at first, but after a few days with Barter, the message sinks in: Facilitating a circle is child's play. Anyone can do it.

Isn't it time we start?

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http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~lyubansk/

Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches Psychology of Race and Ethnicity, Theories of Psychotherapy, and a graduate-level restorative justice practicum based at a youth detention center. An autobiographical essay of Mikhail's interests in race relations and basketball is available here.

Since 2009, Mikhail has been learning, facilitating, evaluating, and supporting others in the U.S. in learning about Restorative Circles, a restorative practice developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter and his associates. In addition to conflict and restorative practices, Mikhail also has a long-standing interest (going back about 20 years) in race and (more...)
 

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And it's gratifying to hear a strong second voice ... by GLloyd Rowsey on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 6:35:15 AM
ignore the law and violate people's rights? If so... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 10:55:13 AM
persecution your profile describes, specifically, ... by GLloyd Rowsey on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 12:40:15 PM
which once helped secure liberty and justice. The ... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 1:31:20 PM
let me know if I'm right here, but it sounds like ... by Edwin Rutsch on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 4:58:46 PM
show empathy, but many of those who seek positions... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 6:57:54 PM
So are you saying you feel some people working in ... by Edwin Rutsch on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 7:51:44 PM
why injustice is rampant and how justice is suppos... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Dec 11, 2010 at 11:59:17 AM
from what I see there's 2 basic forms of justice, ... by Edwin Rutsch on Saturday, Dec 11, 2010 at 10:05:00 PM
Would it be possible to state that ' restorative j... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 9:02:00 AM
There is a link to a report on the front page righ... by Mikhail Lyubansky on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 10:59:54 AM
do we have to beg a prosecutor to prosecute crimes... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 10:49:31 AM
"The impact of Reaganite folly has increasingly im... by Arthur Avalon on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 1:49:11 PM
I would argue very respectfully that restorative ... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 2:31:07 PM
This is all nice and sweet and everything, and the... by Ned Lud on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 4:38:33 PM
click here Please take note of the picture of th... by Ned Lud on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 5:04:38 PM
I just received a private message that I think is ... by Mikhail Lyubansky on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 4:39:16 PM
Before we can diminish our sufferings from the ill... by Bill Cain on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 5:05:11 PM
Hi Mikhail It's great to see how your writing on ... by Edwin Rutsch on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 5:15:09 PM
I love spending time in empathic communities, and ... by Mikhail Lyubansky on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 11:22:00 PM
(I updated my bio, hope that helps)"I'm not really... by Edwin Rutsch on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 11:52:17 PM
Y'LL must realize that legal system of anglosaxons... by John Smith on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 8:49:54 PM
as meaning criminal law, Jan. And the most meanin... by GLloyd Rowsey on Saturday, Dec 11, 2010 at 12:13:13 PM
said that black was white, and when a judge does t... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Dec 11, 2010 at 5:19:37 PM
I've never been on a jury - civil or criminal - bu... by GLloyd Rowsey on Sunday, Dec 12, 2010 at 5:40:16 PM
There are many restorative systems. In some, like ... by Mikhail Lyubansky on Sunday, Dec 12, 2010 at 8:45:42 PM
Idea of USA was great. But was hijacked.click here... by John Smith on Friday, Dec 10, 2010 at 9:12:30 PM
Prison sentences are the punishment,prisons are no... by bogi666 on Sunday, Dec 12, 2010 at 5:40:40 AM