A Restorative Response to Harm
Because our current system operates contrary to restorative principles, it is common for implementation of restorative practices to be misunderstood and face resistance; despite this, restorative justice in its basic form is an intuitive concept for most people. In his seminal work, Changing Lenses, Howard Zehr examines the way in which we typically respond to crime and wrongdoing:
Our retributive criminal justice systems asks:
- What rules or laws were broken?
- Who broke them?
- What do they deserve?
Whereas, restorative justice asks:
- Who has been hurt?
- What are their needs?
- Who has the obligation to address the needs and put right the harm?
RJ allows affected parties the opportunity to collectively define the impact and determine steps to make things as right as possible for everyone—the person(s) harmed, the person(s) who harmed others, and the broader community. Restorative justice takes incidents that might otherwise result in punishment and finds opportunities for students to recognize the impact of their behavior, understand their obligation to take responsibility for their actions, and take steps towards making things right.
Involving those affected is a cornerstone of restorative justice: restorative questions cannot be adequately answered without the involvement of those who have been most affected. Through this process, students learn how to manage their relationships with adults and peers and become better equipped to understand how their behavior impacts others. This encourages accountability, improves school safety, and helps students to develop skills so the school community can succeed.
Stated another way, both the theory and practice of RJ emphasize the importance of:
- Identifying the harm.
- Involving all stakeholders to their desired comfort level.
- True accountability—taking steps to repair the harm and address its causes to the degree possible.