Why Restorative Practices?
Lawyers must be prepared to foster communication and facilitate discussion with their clients, and those with whom their client is engaged. Because lawyers serve as officers of the court, there is an even greater standard of care that attorneys must meet to ensure civility, a fair process and resolution (when possible) of conflict.
Mediation and arbitration are often used in legal circles to try to come to a resolution after an act causing harm, or a disagreement, has occurred. These are primarily reactive methods used to address conflict. At UCLA Law, students are actively engaged in learning and practicing a proactive and reactive form of conflict resolution: Restorative Practices.
What is "Restorative Practices?"
Restorative Practices is the “umbrella” term for restorative justice (used in many criminal court arenas) and other restorative methods that view restoring harm and building relationships as the pathway to a peaceful and productive society. As an academic discipline, Restorative Practices is a social science that looks at building social capital and achieving social discipline through active, participatory learning, community building and decision-making. (For more about the genesis and current research in the area of restorative practices, please see Defining Restorative on the International Institute for Restorative Practices website).
Regardless of the restorative model used, all restorative practices rely on particular methods to encourage dialogue, especially when harm has occurred. Questions like those below lay the foundation to discover the root cause of offending behavior, determine impact, repair harm, and hopefully reestablish relationships.
- What happened, and what were you thinking at the time of the incident?
- What have you thought about since?
- Who has been affected by what happened and how?
- What about this has been the hardest for you?
- What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible?
What is a "Facilitated Restorative Conference?"
During a restorative conference, Restorative Justice Leaders (or Facilitators) facilitate a dialogue between the person who caused harm and the harmed parties. Typically done while sitting in a circle, the parties discuss the harm that occurred, how it affected each of the people involved, and then decide what steps can be taken to repair the harm. Typically a written agreement is reached at the end of the conference as to how the person who caused harm will remain accountable to repair the harm.
What is a "Restorative Circle?"
Restorative circles are similar to conferences, but may involve many more people and involve a talking piece, allowing the dialogue to be much more free-flowing than a facilitated conference. Circles can be utilized when a person who caused harm is present, or even if not, so that harmed parties or supporters can have the opportunity to speak about a matter causing them harm. Participants sit in a circle and one or two facilitators pose questions to the group and ask for responses for those willing or interested as the talking piece passes around the circle. Any participant may "pass" by handing the talking piece to the next person in the circle. At times, the facilitator may decide to “popcorn” the talking piece, meaning that it can move irregularly from one side of the circle to another, and to any person in any order, so long as it goes to whoever is interested in speaking next. The facilitator is responsible for “setting a tone of respect, hope and support” and facilitating for at least three or four rounds.
What is Restorative Justice and how is it related to Restorative Practices?
Restorative Justice (RJ) is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by one's behavior, by focusing on the needs of the victim and the person who caused harm, as well as members of the community. It is a subset of restorative practices; it typically focuses on a response to harm, rather than a proactive form of community building.
Rooted in the indigenous Maori justice process in New Zealand and in Native American dispute resolution practices, RJ has been used in criminal justice systems around the world since the mid-1970s to transform the way societies deal with crime and other violations. Essentially, RJ shifts how we look at offenses. Rather than viewing them as violations of rules, laws or the state, they are considered transgressions against people, relationships and the community. RJ embraces community empowerment and participation, multipartial facilitation, active accountability and social support. A central practice of RJ is a collaborative decision-making process that includes harmed parties, offenders and others who have an interest in holding offenders accountable.
RJ is typically guided by the following questions:
- What is the harm that has been done?
- How can that harm be repaired?
- Who is responsible for the repair?
There are many wonderful resources for Restorative Justice. We recommend you begin with this tutorial on restorative justice from the Centre for Justice & Reconciliation and expand your search from there.