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Circulos de Paz and the promise of peace: Restorative justice meets intimate violence

Sep 16, 2011

from the article by Linda G. Mills, Mary Helen Maley and Yael Shy in New York University Review of Law and Social Change:

Circles of Peace/Circulos de Paz was founded in Nogales, Arizona in 2004 to address these myriad problems with both the criminal justice response to intimate violence and Batterer Intervention Programs. Circles of Peace is the first court-referred domestic violence treatment program to use a restorative justice circle approach to reduce violent behavior in families in the United States. 

The program consists of twenty-six to fifty-two weeks of conferences, or "Circles," bringing partners who have been abusive (the "applicants") together with willing family members (including those who have been abused, the "participants"), support people, a trained professional facilitator, and community volunteers. The goal is to encourage dialogue about the incident, the history of violence in this family, and meaningful change. 

The inclusion of the extended family network in the treatment helps those in the circle understand how violence is transmitted across generations and serves to hold applicants accountable to those whom they respect. It also keeps the treatment flexible and culturally sensitive, as all circle members have an opportunity to speak and the language and concepts used can be adapted to the parties involved. 

Someone close to the family is appointed to serve as "safety monitor" before the first circle convenes. This person performs frequent check-ins with the couple and seeks help if tensions begin to increase. Finally, circles are enhanced through mental health and drug and alcohol treatment services, available to both applicants and participants when necessary or helpful.

....In Circles of Peace, the facilitator raises themes each week for the participants to discuss, including power and control, healthy family dynamics, conflict resolution, anger management, and other topics. Once the theme is raised, however, the flexible nature of Circles allows participants to discuss the nuanced and complex patterns of violence and abuse that have developed over many years (sometimes generations). 

The facilitator encourages support people and community members, so-called "outsiders" to the intimate relationship, to express how the abuse may have impacted their lives. Through this process, the couple sees how they are connected to their family, as well as to the larger community. Everyone begins to feel responsible for the recovery taking place in these individuals and this family. 

All Circle participants agree to a social compact with an express pledge to end the violence and with goals for the future. The safety monitor identifies periods of rising tensions within the family and notifies the Circle facilitator (or even the police, in appropriate circumstances) of any danger. In this safe environment, participants have the opportunity to lower their defenses, express deep and long-held beliefs and accompanying emotions, and move towards change.

Read the whole article.

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