Three boys ages 16-17 broke church windows and wrote offensive words around the church door.
•Three 14 year old boys took a handbag and mobile phone off a teacher’s desk.
•Another 14 year-old boy stabbed another boy in the back with scissors after enduring bullying.
In all of these cases, the offenders could have been arrested, endured a trial, and spent time in jail. But a new approach to America’s traditional justice system – restorative justice – looks for other solutions.
Restorative justice is an “approach” more than a defined set of programs or rules and involves some form of mediation or conflict resolution and often results in apologies, reparation, compensation and community service.
Restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law – it also causes harm to people, relationships and the community. So a just response must address those harms as well as the wrongdoing.
If the parties are willing, restorative justice brings the parties together to discuss those harms and how to bring about a resolution.
Sometimes those meetings lead to transformational changes in lives. It’s a model that’s having a strong track record of success in public schools, community policing and even in the court system.
Some Kansas communities are at the forefront of facilitating restorative justice with the support of several key organizations including the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Bethel College, the Center for Conflict Resolution, in Kansas City, MO, the Offender Victim Ministries of Newton and the Salina Institute for Restorative Justice.
But until now, no one event has brought many of these practitioners together at the same time and place. “Restorative Kansas: A Vision for Justice” is a conference that intends to do just that, happening on the campus of Bethel College April 19-20.
KIPCOR executive director Sheryl Wilson is also the current president of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, a professional organization that mainly serves as a way to get resources to, and promote networking for, restorative justice practitioners in the United States.
Her connections have helped Restorative Kansas draw in nationally and internationally known speakers who have agreed to come “because of their passion for this work and because they want to help us [in Kansas],” Wilson says. “They want to see us succeed, to see Kansas be on the restorative justice map.”
The purpose of this first-ever conference, Wilson says, has several facets.
One is to provide an introduction to restorative justice to people who work in communities – such as police officers, pastors and public school teachers – and who may have heard of restorative justice but don’t know, or don’t understand, what it is.
Another is to bring together those who are already practicing restorative justice – in schools, in the criminal justice and court systems, through community mediation centers – to get re-inspired to spread “the gospel of restorative justice” and to make connections with other practitioners across the state.
Students were what conference planners had in mind when they invited Circles & Ciphers, a Chicago-based, hip-hop-infused restorative justice organization led by and for young people affected by violence.
Circles & Ciphers “integrates the arts with circle processes (of restorative justice,” says Sharon Kniss, KIPCOR director of education and training. “They’re coming here before their East Coast tour. Their goal is to inspire other young people to do this kind of work themselves, in ways that are applicable to the communities.”
Circles is a meditations process used in restorative justice when the culprits of an incident are not known or there are many people responsible for, or affected by, the problem, a circle can be held to allow people to talk about how the adverse behavior affects them and to ask individuals to identify their part in the problem.
For more information, go to kipcor.org for the link to the conference, which includes links to the sponsoring organizations, a complete schedule for both days, and online registration.