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"RJ can lower the school-to-prison pipeline, lower the amount of our youth involved in the juvenile justice system; create better relationships between our younger people and adults since RJ fosters a climate of respect and relationship building; and hopefully create safer, nurturing communities for our kids to thrive, learn and grow. "
Mary Fazzini, Coordinator, Homewood-Flossmoor Peer Jury

Restorative Justice in Communities

Restorative Justice (RJ) is a philosophy, set of practices and mindset that addresses injustice (most often a law or rule broken) by thinking about the harms, needs and obligations of all of those involved. Healing is accomplished most often when all those affected are involved and meet to discuss and decide how best to repair the harm by addressing those needs and obligations.

Howard Zehr, known widely as the “grandfather of restorative justice,” has said, “Crime is a wound. Justice should be healing.” A punitive justice system that ignores the specific needs of victims does not create safer communities, but instead not only alienates those they punish, but also their communities and all those affected by the crime. The punitive justice system asks three questions:

  • What law was broken?
  • Who did it?
  • How are we going to punish them?

Restorative justice (RJ), on the other hand, is a cooperative process of responding to crime that involves all the primary stakeholders in determining how best to repair the harm done by the offense. This process builds authentic relationships based on understanding and common interests, which in turn creates cohesive and safe communities. A restorative justice process asks three questions:

  • Who was harmed?
  • How will the harm be repaired?
  • Who is responsible for repairing the harm?

Because crime harms people and relationships, justice requires the healing of the harm as much as possible.

The primary stakeholders in a given offense are 1) the person who caused the harm (typically referred to as “the offender”), 2) the person who was harmed (referred to as “the victim”) and 3) the community affected by the offense.

There are Five Essential Characteristics of successful restorative practices:

  • RELATIONSHIPS: Developing caring connections and finding common ground
  • RESPECT: Listening to others’ opinions and valuing them
  • RESPONSIBILITY: Being accountable for actions taken
  • RESTORATION: Repairing harm that has been caused
  • REINTEGRATION: Ensuring all remain included and involved

Four Important Elements are found in restorative practices:

  • Encounter: Creates an opportunity for all to meet to discuss what happened and the harm caused.
  • Amends: Expects those who have harmed to take steps to repair the harm done to others.
  • Reintegration: Seeks to restore everyone to whole, contributing members of society.
  • Inclusion: Provides opportunities for all to collaborate in creating a resolution.

The best outcome from restorative justice practices happens when all stakeholders are actively involved and have a voice in the process.

Restorative Justice in Communities

In the community, restorative justice practices can be diversions from typical justice system responses (i.e. court, probation, etc.), providing an opportunity for the stakeholders to focus on the harm caused and the needs and obligations of those involved.

Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) is found within the Juvenile Justice System, and takes Restorative Justice one step further suggesting that there are three components to the Balanced Approach: Accountability, Competency Development and Community Safety. Accountability suggests that the youthful offender has an obligation to the person harmed to make amends; competency development increases the expectation that the youthful offender leaves the juvenile justice system more capable than when entering it; and community safety reflects the various partnerships in the community that support the youth while providing a continuum of sanctions to reduce recidivism.

BARJ practices in communities often create opportunities for transformation where youth realize their responsibility and successfully complete outcomes requested. These can include sincere apologies, restitution and community service all of which lead to higher victim and community satisfaction and lower recidivism rates.

RJ practices in communities:

Restorative Practices in Schools

Zero-tolerance policies became widespread in 1994, after federal legislation required states to expel for one year any student who brought a firearm to school, or lose all federal funding. It was not long before the results were showing this to be a seriously flawed practice . Every year over three million children drop out of school . When students are suspended and expelled from school for misbehavior they get farther behind in their studies. They have not learned correct behavior, nor have they appropriately been held accountable for their behavior. Teachers who are frustrated with growing violence in schools report they do not know what to do other than eliminating what, to many schools, seems like a “problem” to be eliminated.

Restorative practices in schools, inspired by the philosophy and practices of restorative justice, prioritizes repairing harm done to relationships over the need for assigning blame and dispensing punishment. Based in indigenous wisdom and modern restorative justice philosophy, Restorative Practices increase accountability, and both student and teacher satisfaction while using such events as a natural opportunity to promote social and emotional learning, positive youth development, and cognitive psychology.

According to Belinda Hopkins, author of Just Schools: A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice, “A whole-school approach to using restorative practices contributes to

  • Happier and safer schools,
  • Mutually respectful relationships,
  • More effective teaching and learning,
  • Reducing exclusion, and
  • Raising attendance.

The restorative approach is based on the belief that the people best placed to resolve a conflict or a problem are the people directly involved, and that imposed solutions are less effective, less educative and possibly less likely to be honored. In order to engage in a restorative approach to conflict and challenging behavior people need certain attitudes and skills. Skills-based training can develop both restorative skills and attitudes.”

In Chicago, Manley Career Academy High School and Christian Fenger Academy High School are both examples of high schools that have made a difference in a few short years by using restorative practices to reduce violence while lowering suspension and expulsion rates. Click here to read about their successes with restorative practices. (NBC news report & Tribune article June 2013)

Restorative practices in schools include:

Social Discipline Window: The social discipline window (www.iirp.org) describes four basic approaches to maintaining social norms and behavioral boundaries. The four are represented as different combinations of high or low control and high or low support. The restorative domain combines both high control and high support and is characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. When students have the opportunity to be cared for and supported as well as to be held accountable for their actions, schools flourish and students' learning is accelerated.