Restorative Justice 101

A relational approach to conflict.

Conflict is the dissidence between one’s expectations and the actual outcome.  From this dissidence sprouts a feeling or physical hurt.  “I thought you were going to take me to the football game… and you didn’t,” this is the dissidence, the resulting feelings stem from the hurt this situation caused.   Conflict is often thought of as between two people, this is interpersonal conflict.  There is also conflict that resides internally and often takes a long time to come to the surface.  Clear examples of this internalization of conflict are feelings of inadequacy or not-belonging, these sometime manifest in self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety, and/or depression.  There is one more area of conflict: systemic.  These conflict situations reside in the large systems of our society.  Think equality in treatment of male/female/trans and black/asian/white.  We expect folks to be treated the same in job applications, housing, financial markets, and the justice system but they’re not treated the same or fairly.  Some of the outcomes of these conflicts are the disproportionate incarceration rates, lack of educational opportunities, and disparate wealth gaps.  All the conflicts cause harm.

Harm creates a power imbalance.  Often the “victim” is dis-empowered.

While both Restorative Justice and Retributive Justice try to re-balance the scales, the qualitative difference between them is that RJ works to build up the “victim” while retributive justice seeks to inflict pain on the “offender” equal to what the victim experienced.

As I say many times: “RJ is a relational approach to conflict.”  What do I mean by that?  RJ approaches conflict/harm as a way of engaging in “relationship building.”  Circles and the “circle process” is a way to build relationships prior to conflict/harm.  Restorative Justice uses Empathy, Accountability, and the “Act of Apology” in order to rebuild the damaged relationships.  Relationships are those connections between the “author” and the “victim,” community, and the “author” themselves.

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