The 13th International Institute of Restorative Practices World Conference on restorative justice opened today in Hull, U.K. Twenty four countries are represented among the 500 participants. The day long plenary session included reports on restorative justice programs in a number of countries. The take away is that this is a time of significant change.
The conference is being held in Hull because it has made a commitment to be the world's first restorative justice city. That commitment begins with the Lord Mayor and includes the police department, the school administration and social service agencies.
I sat next to the head of the neighborhood policing units for Hull. He said that five years ago Hull was "bandit country," but that a remarkable turnaround has happened in a few short years, as restorative practices have been implemented in more areas of the city.
The Chief of Police for Norfolk, U.K., a city that is also implementing restorative practices, said that his neighborhood police officers first attempt to get everyone involved in and affected by an incident together to find out what happened and why. They can often resolve the dispute in thirty minutes or less and no arrest is necessary. People are now telling the Norfolk police that they like how they are handling their problems. This is giving rise to greater job satisfaction among the police force.
The Chief said that restorative justice is cost effective (not cheap), and that they are experiencing substantial savings in every area. As the economy in the U.K. has been hit hard by the world-wide recession, restorative practices is permitting them to do more with less.
Based on presentations about various programs, the success of restorative justice over the long term depends on buy in from the top and a process for training trainers within each agency who will insure that the program is sustainable. While there are many pitfalls to be avoided, as more localities gain experience that they can share, the implementation of RJ is becoming more streamlined.
An interesting development is that, as more people are trained in restorative practices, they are able to utilize it into more areas of conflict. One segment of today's plenary session was about restorative justice in the workplace. One of the speakers told of an agency where two employees who were in a dispute over how a job was to be done had each filed a complaint with the human resources department.
The speaker had been able to intervene with a restorative justice circle before HR instituted the grievance process. The communication that occurred within the RJ circle made the parties to the conflict see that they both shared the same goals for the agency. They recognized that the dispute was based on a different understanding of how best to achieve those goals, and what was needed was better communication. They both withdrew their complaints.
Restorative justice does not avoid conflict, it deals with conflict differently. RJ is not just a different tool in the toolbox, it reflects a different culture. It depends on building relationships, giving everyone an opportunity to tell his/her story, an opportunity to give feedback and to ask questions. The success of restorative justice depends on a change in the ethos that begins first with changing oneself.
Restorative practices also means giving up control. It is a collaborative, not a top-down, process. This is why buy in from the top is so important. If the top management believes that the introduction of restorative practices presents a threat to management's ability to dictate what happens, people in management will find ways to undermine the process.
If, on the other hand, management sees the benefit of restorative justice and embraces it, the organization will run more smoothly and be more productive. It is a win/win for both management and the employees.
Restorative practices have a long way to go before they become the norm. The fact that so many people in many different countries are working toward the implementation of restorative practices is worth taking note of. This is a historic development.
Also posted on GenuineJustice.com.