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Dan Van Ness

Dan Van Ness

Dan Van Ness has been immersed in criminal justice issues for 30 years, as a lawyer, restorative justice advocate, and teacher. After six years’ poverty law practice on the West Side of Chicago, he worked with a national justice reform organization lobbying for changes in sentencing and victim rights issues. His interest in restorative justice began in 1982 when he met Howard Zehr and Mark Umbreit while promoting expansion of community corrections in Indiana. Dan has worked with Prison Fellowship International's Centre for Justice and Reconciliation since 1996. Dan was a primary architect of the United Nations of Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters. He is the author of articles, papers, and several books on restorative justice, the most recent of which are Restoring Justice, 3rd edition (co-authored with Karen Heetderks Strong) and Handbook of Restorative Justice (co-edited with Gerry Johnstone).

Dan Van Ness: Restorative justice and the problem of minority over-representation
Over-representation of minorities in the criminal justice system is a problem around the world. It raises questions about the fairness of the justice system itself and of how larger social justice problems influence the justice system.
Editorial: Restorative justice and Christmas
by Dan Van Ness The first use of the term “restorative justice” is usually traced to a collection of articles by psychologist Albert Eglash in 1958. Ann Skelton has traced Eglash’s source for the term to a 1955 book, The Biblical Doctrine of Justice and Law. It refers to restorative justice in a discussion of the intersection of justice and love in Christian teaching:
Review: The legacy of community justice
Reviewed by Dan Van Ness There are really two subjects of this collection of articles: One is community justice, which continues to exert influence in the juvenile and criminal justice fields. The second, and perhaps more important one, is Dennis (Denny) Maloney. Denny was an influential, charismatic, larger than life leader in the restorative and community justice movement until his untimely death in 2007.
David Daubney of Canada presented the 2011 International Prize for Restorative Justice
by Dan Van Ness David Daubney has been awarded the 2011 International Prize for Restorative Justice in recognition of the public policy leadership he has provided in support of restorative justice. The presentation was made during the Prison Fellowship World Convocation underway in Toronto, Canada from 28 June – 2 July, 2011. Daubney’s interest in restorative justice began twenty five years ago when he was a Member of Parliament, chairing the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice. The Committee was engaged in a year-long study of public and professional attitudes about crime and criminal justice. As it conducted hearings across Canada, its members began to hear about a concept that was new to all of them: restorative justice. They heard from grassroots organizations operating victim offender reconciliation programs in Canada and from crime victims who spoke about the personal healing they had received from their involvement in these programs. The Committee was so impressed that it recommended in its 1987 report “Taking Responsibility” – known to many as the Daubney Report – that restorative values and principles be incorporated into the Canadian Criminal Code.
Restorative terminology: A modest proposal
by Dan Van Ness Howard Zehr suggests that at the core of restorative justice are the values of respect, responsibility and relationship. Respect for others, genuine responsibility that acknowledges the true extent to which my actions affect others, and a recognition that the universe is relational and not merely material, all are reflected in what we call restorative justice. But should we apply that term to all attempts to follow those values?For example, is civility restorative justice? I just received an email message from a group called Civilination whose mission "is to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment, or lies." In other words, they want online culture to reflect respect, responsibility and relationships. They believe their work is connected to restorative justice and wanted us to inform our readers of their important work (which we've now done!).
Circling self-interest and democracy
reviewed by Dan Van Ness Lode Walgrave begins his exceptional 2008 book Restorative Justice, Self-interest and Responsible Citizenship like many writers on restorative justice. He reviews the ancient and recent history of restorative approaches, proposes and explains a definition of restorative justice, and outlines various restorative schemes. He then contrasts restorative approaches from contemporary criminal practice and identifies ways in which the former resolves practical and ethical problems of the latter. The person who crosses this familiar territory with Lode is well rewarded because he writes with analytical precision, a scholar’s restraint, and the passion of someone with conviction. He has much to say that is worth hearing. He once again explains clearly why he favours a maximalist definition of restorative justice, one that is not limited to deliberative schemes but which applies only to harm caused by crime. He carefully and thoroughly builds his case against punishment and against restorative justice being considered an alternative punishment rather than an alternative to punishment.
Internally displaced people in Colombia: Victims in permanent transition
by Dan Van Ness I have just received a copy of a research study on the peace negotiations in Colombia: Internally displaced people in Colombia: Victims in permanent transition: Ethical and political dilemmas of reparative justice in the midst of internal armed conflict by Sandro Jiménez Ocampo, et al. From 2004 to 2007, the Colombian Government conducted peace negotiations with paramilitary groups. One of the issues negotiated had to do with the claims of people who had been killed or forcibly displace from their land, lands that were held by the combatants when the negotiations began. Forced displacement and deaths continued during the course of the negotiations, creating new claims. While reparation to victims was supposed to be a prominent outcome to the negotiations, the difficulties of negotiating peace in the course of a violent conflict together with the absence of the victims of displacement from the negotiation meant that there were claims of serious inadequacies with the results.
New study concludes that victim awareness programme works
by Dan Van Ness The Sycamore Tree Programme (STP), a victim awareness programme delivered by Prison Fellowship England and Wales since 1998, produces "significant positive attitudinal changes" in prisoners, making it less likely that they will commit crimes in the future. This is the finding of a new study that evaluated before and after questionnaires completed by 5,007 programme participants over the past three years.
Treasures: Victims Voice, Safe Justice and Lemonade
by Dan Van Ness I just came across several treasures that will be extremely useful to people who have been, who love, or who work with crime victims. The first is the website of Victims' Voice, a Canadian NGO sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee and whose purpose is "to address the revictimization of victims in the criminal justice system, to create understanding about victims among practitioners who work within the system and to give emotional and informational support directly to victims through victim-centered programs." The website has a number of resources that can be downloaded. And it contains links to two more sites, also sponsored by Victims' Voice.
Three justice orientations (or two?)
Howard Zehr, recently wrote in his Restorative Justice Blog: Stanford Law Professor Herbert Packer has argued that two opposing justice orientations dominate U.S. policy debates: crime control vs. due process. Could a restorative justice orientation provide a “third way?” that transcends these poles? The following identifies some assumptions of each. Crime control orientation: emphasis on order and security.... Due process orientation: emphasis on preventing misuse of the punishment system.... Restorative justice orientation - emphasis on repair and responsibility.... Read the whole entry.
Justice and mercy
by Dan Van Ness The compassionate release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of participation in the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, has generated a great deal of discussion. And well it might; 270 people died when the plane crashed (259 passengers and 11 residents of Lockerbie). Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of the terrorist attack.
Finding space for Fido
by Dan Van Ness This is not the story about a violent crime or even school bullying. But it concerns a problem contributing to the quality of life of people in a neighborhood, and of the dogs that some of them own. Dog owners in the Kingfield neighbourhood of Minneapolis want a place for their pets to run free. While there is no park in their district that allows this, some of them unleash their dogs anyhow.
Restorative justice, survivors and the death penalty
by Dan Van Ness Two interesting items appeared on my desktop today, both about the death penalty. One, titled Conn. Home Invasion Survivor Faces Long Court Case, begins this way: NEW HAVEN, Conn. – At 52, Dr. William Petit faces years — perhaps decades — of emotionally draining court hearings before the two men charged with murdering his family in a 2007 home invasion may be convicted and executed.
Theory of trouble
by Dan Van Ness The very interesting website Restorative Resources has this great quote from the organization's director: "If, by the time a student has graduated high school, they have not gotten into significant trouble at least three times and found a positive way to resolve it each time, I suggest that their education is incomplete." --Amos Clifford As the father of a recent high school graduate, I'm not sure that I would have wished for my son to get into significant trouble three out of the four years he was there, but I get Clifford's point.
Why penal reform should be a conservative issue
By Dan Van Ness As reported earlier on RJOB, the Commission on Prisons Today recently released its report, Do Better, Do Less. Among other things it argues for expanded use of restorative justice programmes and policies. One of the Commission members was Ian Loader, Professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College. In an article on, the website of the British Conservative Party, he argues that conservatives should be at the forefront of penal reform.
Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools
By Dan Van Ness On July 8, 2009, three organizations -- the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and Make the Road New York -- released a report on six New York City schools that have created safe and nurturing environments without relying on metal detectors, aggressive policing and harsh discipline. Based on the success of those schools, Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools offers seven recommendations for replicating their experience in other NY City schools.
Kenya: Annan's is one of many options
By Dan Van Ness In the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya in late 2007, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan mediated an agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to form a power-sharing administration. A government-appointed commission investigated the violence and in October 2008 gave Annan a list of suspects in the killings along with proof. Since then, the government and the International Criminal Court have negotiated about how to address prosecution of the perpetrators. Earlier in July they agreed that the ICC will set up a court in Kenya to try the suspects. At that point, Annan turned over the list of suspects to the ICC'sChief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. In commenting on this development on, L. Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, made some interesting observations about the kind of justice that Kenyans need:
Building restorative cultures
by Dan Van Ness Yesterday I wrote about the media treatment of a paper delivered by Dr. Hillary Cremin warning that restorative justice programmes alone are not enough to address bullying if there is not also a culture change at the school. One newspaper reported that this meant that "trendy" restorative justice doesn't work to stop bullying. My entry yesterday considered the difficulty of working with media to present a nuanced argument when they are looking for soundbites to sell papers. Today I want to consider another issue, one that Dr. Cremin raised in our correspondence:
An interesting reason to use restorative justice
"We're looking at thousands of dollars in damage and the courts would never impose that on first offenders. Nor would there be any sort of punitive action taken. With the restorative justice forum, the expectation - and my belief - is that they are going to be dealt with much more harshly through an RJ than they would be in the provincial court system or the youth courts. The courts would probably simply give them a conditional sentence and send them on their way. With the RJ forum we're looking at restitution and we'll be looking at some community input.
On delivering nuanced messages in a soundbite culture
"Trendy 'restorative justice' schemes to stamp out bullying at schools 'do not work'," the headline trumpeted. The article by Laura Clark on Mail Online (the website of the Daily Mail) began in the same vein: "Trendy 'no punishment' approaches to tackling bullying are not working in many schools, a researcher warned yesterday. More than 600 schools use 'restorative justice' techniques which allow bullies to escape punishment if they face their victims and apologise. But a Cambridge University academic told a conference the approach has been 'widely exaggerated' as a remedy for bullying."

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