Emotion gives the Real Justice restorative justice conference its power.
Offenders, victims and their supporters all benefit from the free exchange of emotion that happens in a restorative conference. Offenders come face to face with their victims and directly hear the impact of their actions. Victims have a chance to tell offenders how they have been affected. Offenders gain empathy and understanding for those they have harmed — not only their victims, but their own families as well. They also have a chance to make amends and shed the “offender” label. In expressing their pain and anger, victims can find relief for their feelings of post-traumatic stress. Family members and other supporters all have a chance to be heard and begin the process of restoring relationships. The conference process provides a way for all participants to discover their common humanity and move forward.
The Real Justice conference is a tool that allows those who have been most affected by an incident to come together to share their feelings, describe how they have been affected and develop a plan to repair the harm done and prevent recurrence. Conferencing is a victim-sensitive approach to addressing wrongdoing. It is also re-integrative, allowing a person to make amends and avoid stigmatization.
Real Justice conferences are structured meetings and always voluntary. The conference provides victims and others with an opportunity to confront the offender, express their feelings, ask questions and have a say in the outcome.
Offenders hear firsthand how their behavior has affected people. They may begin to repair the harm by apologizing, making amends and agreeing to financial restitution or personal or community service work.
Real Justice facilitators stick to a simple script to focus the encounter but otherwise do not actively participate. This demonstrates to participants that they can resolve their own problems.
The facilitator first asks offenders to talk about what they did, what they were thinking about when they did it, and who they think may have been affected by their actions. The facilitator then asks victims and their family members and friends to talk about the incident from their perspective, as well as how it affected them. The offenders’ family and friends are asked to do the same.
Finally the victim is asked what he or she would like to be the outcome of the conference. The response is discussed with the offender and everyone else at the conference. When agreement is reached usually a simple contract is written and signed.
Much to his surprise and chagrin he successfully videotaped Lou, a youth who worked for him, stealing a $20 bill from the drawer. Walter confronted Lou, who tearfully admitted to all of the thefts during the past months. Lou was the last person Walter would ever have imagined stealing from him. He was the son of a couple who were among his family’s dearest friends. Nonetheless, Walter felt compelled to fire Lou from the job and call the police.
The arresting officer realized that calling the police had been a painful decision for Walter. The close relationship between Walter and Lou’s families and the youth’s lack of a previous criminal record made the situation especially appropriate for a conference. Both parties agreed, and the policeman convened the conference a few days later in a room at the local police station.
Lou could not have been more ashamed. He knew that he had not only betrayed people who had always been kind and generous to him but also humiliated his own family and damaged the close relationship between Walter’s family and his own.
The conference was an intensely emotional event. Walter and his wife repeatedly stated they would never have expected Lou to be the thief and how betrayed and hurt they felt. They also pointed out the distance and discomfort between their two families since they had discovered who had been stealing from their store.
Lou’s parents echoed their friends’ sentiments. They were utterly amazed that their son was capable of such wrongdoing and emphasized how ashamed and uncomfortable they now felt talking to their longtime friends. They simply did not know what to say or how to make up for their son’s betrayal. Lou’s siblings even felt ashamed at school and in town now that everyone knew their brother was a thief.
Expressing these feelings was helpful for both families and began the healing process between them. They next turned to discussing how to repair the harm and developed a written plan that satisfied all parties. As the conference reached its close, feelings eased and all acknowledged that while they disapproved of what Lou had done, they still cared about him and hoped that he would eventually restore trust within his own family and with Walter’s family.
Because most crimes involve victims and offenders who live near each other and are likely to continue to see each other, punishing the offender is not enough. People need personal resolution so that they can deal with each other in the future. To prosecute the young convenience store thief through the criminal justice system would have left two families who had long been friends in a very awkward situation, unable to resume their relationship. The conference provided a way to deal with those feelings, reconcile and move beyond the crisis while squarely addressing Lou’s crime.
- Conferencing can be employed by schools in response to truancy, disciplinary incidents, including violence, or as a prevention strategy in the form of role plays of conferences with primary and elementary school students.
- Police can use conferences as a warning or diversion from court, especially with first-time offenders.
- Courts may use conferencing as a diversion, an alternative sentencing process, or a healing event for victims and offenders after the court process is concluded.
- Juvenile and adult probation officers may respond to various probation violations with conferences.
- Correctional and treatment facilities will find that conferences resolve the underlying issues and tensions in conflicts and disciplinary actions.
- Colleges and universities can use conferences with dormitory and campus incidents and disciplinary violations.
- In workplaces conferencing addresses both wrongdoing and conflict.
- Learn how to facilitate restorative conferences — structured meetings that bring together everyone affected by an incident of wrongdoing or conflict to discuss how they have been affected and decide how to repair the harm. Every trainee receives a 250-page book, Restorative Justice Conferencing, related to this training.
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Become a Licensed Trainer
- The IIRP conducts a three-day Training of Trainers that teaches knowledgeable practitioners how to provide the “Facilitating Restorative Conferences” training.
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Restoring Community: 21st IIRP World Conference, October 24-26, 2016, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA Register now »
Professional development opportunities provided by the IIRP Graduate School.
Restorative Justice Conferencing
Two books in one volume combines the official training manual that provides a step-by-step guide to setting up and conducting conferences and actual conference stories to show how conferencing works and how it can change the way our society responds to wrongdoing in schools, criminal justice, the workplace and elsewhere. more » $30
Burning Bridges (YouTube)
A 35-minute documentary about the arson of Mood’s Bridge, a historic covered bridge in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA, and the restorative conference held in its wake. more »
Facing the Demons (DVD)
An hour-long documentary video about the journey of the family and friends of murdered victim Michael Marslew, confronting face-to-face in a conference two of the offenders responsible for Michael’s death. more » $29
Visit the IIRP Bookstore for more books, DVDs and educational resources.