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Restorative justice has unanticipated results

Feb 11, 2015

from the article by Christine Wolf in the Chicago Tribune:

Imagine this scenario: the sound of shattering glass echoes through your condo building as you watch two boisterous teenagers bolt down your street. Much later, after you've helped to clean up the mess and cut your hand on the shard-crusted baseball launched through a lobby window, you're asked to participate in a Restorative Justice Victim-Offender Family Conferencing Program. Your local police department wants you to face the troublemakers and help create a plan to address their behavior. Would you do it?

I'd like you to consider why you should....

The facilitator guided our two-hour conversation in a one-way direction around the circle with the aid of a symbolic talking piece. She began the conversation with a statement for everyone to answer: "Talk about a time when you hurt someone," followed by, "Talk about a time someone hurt you." Rather than jumping in to an emotional debate about wrongdoings, we spoke of – and actively listened to – personal stories. Tone and body language softened and became more neutral.

Asked to describe how the ball ended up through a window, the boys spoke of their shared passion for baseball and admitted their total lack of awareness about how close they were to a building while goofing around. While none of that surprised me, what the condo board members said did.

"I thought it was gang activity," one woman admitted, somewhat embarrassed. "I pictured dangerous people, not kids goofing around. I was really scared. I'd heard a rumor our building was targeted." Another condo board member spoke of other residents' concerns. "Someone debated putting his unit on the market," over this, he said, "worried that news of vandalism would lower the value."...

I don't think any of us went into the meeting knowing how much we'd take away. I felt grateful for the reminder we're all human, and humbled to witness apologies (and their acceptance) in such a non-judgmental setting.

More than anything, I felt a surprising sense of accomplishment by helping neighbors restore justice and an even deeper connection to those in my community.

Read the whole article.

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