Restorative Justice Using Peacemaking Circles
by Donald Sutherland, PAg
I attended a five-day seminar on Restorative Justice using peacemaking circles offered at the Canadian Mennonite School of Peace Building in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in June, 2011. The circle process is powerful, inclusive, and healing. In contrast, our punitive justice system places the barrier of the state between victim and offender. Victims are not heard and seldom heal. Offenders and victims who participate in circles together often experience profound healing and change.
Think of restoration as undertaking repair work, particularly in relationships, with a goal to approximate what “was” before harm was done. Think of justice as seeking a solution that is deemed “fair” by all parties impacted by harm.
Restorative Justice is, at its core, forward looking and holistic. A key understanding is that everyone and everything is interconnected. Think of the ripples caused by a pebble dropped into a pond, or the millions of molecules stirred up as we and other creatures breathe in and breathe out.
An important pillar within the restorative justice option is the recognition that all persons and cultures cherish the same core values: respect, honesty, humility, sharing, courage, inclusivity, empathy, trust, forgiveness, and love. As Yukon Judge Barry Steward states: “In every one of us there is a deep desire to connect to others in a good way.”
There are many types of circles, such as talking, understanding, healing, peacemaking, sentencing, support, community-building, conflict resolution, reintegration, celebration. Circle guidelines are discussed by circle participants at an early stage and agreed to by consensus. Typical guidelines are that only the person holding the talking stick may speak, and no questions, comments, or discussions are allowed while participants are in circle format. The circle space is marked with a clear beginning (poem or prayer) and an equally clear ending.
A talking symbol (stone, pencil, stick) is selected and passed to each in turn around the circle. This process levels hierarchy and distributes power more evenly around the circle. Each person is offered space, and within that space, encouraged to speak his or her truth.
Chairs are placed in a circle. No tables or other barriers are allowed in the centre space. Something with special meaning attached to it is placed in the centre of the chairs. Choices are as different as the circle participants and may include a family artifact such as a baby blanket, small handmade quilt, sketch of an historic family homestead, or map of the world. The centre illuminates and amplifies all that goes on around it.
This way of doing justice enhances the emotional and spiritual parts of human experience, raising these to an equal level with the mental and physical, which are so often overvalued in Western culture.
The talking circle is the least complicated of the circle types, requiring no formal training, and could become standard practice in families, church groups, employee teams, and many other situations. The benefits are immediate and profound. All that is required is an understanding of the basic framework, consensus on guidelines, and willingness to listen to another.
Reprinted courtesy of Earthcare Connections, PO Box 1790, Wynyard, SK S0A 4T0. Phone (306) 554-LAND, email: email@example.com, www.earthcare.ca. Donald Sutherland is a career counsellor, personal coach, and mediator with special training in restorative justice. He is also a professional agrologist who divides his time between Saskatoon and Winnipeg, and he is also an active farmer in west-central Saskatchewan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.