Restorative justice at the CAHRO Conference

By Karen Driscoll, LDIR intern

On April 2, 2013, the California Association of Human Relations Organizations (CAHRO) held a daylong conference, “Overcoming Violence & Injustice: The Humans Relations Approach.” The conference featured a panel discussion on how Restorative Justice is helping to transform and heal communities. Rooted in an indigenous practice, Restorative Justice (RJ) aims to proactively address conflict and build community simultaneously. Through the use of “in-circle”, participants (made up of community members, the perpetrator, and victim) are able to discuss the harm that has taken place and decide how to best resolve this harm. As panelists discussed, this practice is successfully being used in schools and juvenile justices systems as an alternative to suspensions and incarceration.

What struck me as most profound about Restorative Justice is that first, perpetrators must be willing to accept responsibility for the harm committed and second, victims get the opportunity to resolve unanswered questions. By allowing both parties to lend their voices and perspectives, a deeper human bond is formed and relationships are transformed. And as this takes place, other members of the community are helping to support the process by providing insights that the victim and perpetrators might not otherwise be able to hear and receive. Here’s an example: Two students are in a conflict with each other, their peers note it and call for a circle. The circle could include the students in conflict, the parents of the students in conflict, peer support for each of the students in conflict. As the harms are being named and discussed, parents can offer support to each other and problem solve together, while the students are given space to be heard and recognize the fuller ramifications of their actions on the community as a whole. The students are provided an opportunity to take responsibility for their actions in a way that does not create further harm, i.e. suspension, missed education, etc.

With such meaningful outcomes, Restorative Justice is a dynamic practice to bring into community work and allows communities to not only address but heal from the trauma associated with issues of race, justice, and equality.

Here’s the panel description, including a list of speakers:

“Restorative Justice: A healing alternative for systems, schools and communities.” Panelists Alicia Virani, equal justice fellow and restorative justice specialist with The California Conference for Equality and Justice; Denise Curtis, program manager for restorative community conferencing for Community Works West; and Edgar Dormitorio, assistant dean of students at UC Irvine will discuss the implementation of restorative justice practices and principles in secondary schools, the community and as an alternative to the juvenile justice system