A great way to understand the Restorative Justice Community Group Conference process is to look at it through the lens of the 5 R’s: Relationship, Respect, Responsibility, Repair, and Reintegration (credited to Beverly Title, founder of Resolutionaries). Read the restorative practices overview or skip to the 5 R’s below!
The model of restorative justice used by Restorative Denver involves bringing together the person who was harmed (victim), the person who caused harm (defendant), and community members in a facilitated community group conference to discuss what happened, what harm was caused by the crime, and how the person who caused harm can take accountability and repair the harm caused by. Restorative justice focuses not on punishment, but on making things right and reintegrating the person who caused harm back into the community with the skills and awareness to make better decisions in the future.
In this age-old process, adapted for use in modern times, people who were harmed have a voice concerning their needs and the impact the crime has had on them. They may move toward healing and forgiveness. The community feels empowerment over their own disputes. The person who caused harm has an opportunity to feel the impact of their behavior and become truly accountable for making it right. Together, through a facilitated process, the people who were harmed, the people who caused harm and representatives from the community create a plan that is restorative in nature, achievable, relevant and fair.
Restorative justice participants report increased victim satisfaction for restorative justice participants. Additionally, when Restorative Justice is offered as an alternative to the traditional justice system, there is a demonstrated reduced demand on municipal courts and probation services for cases that are successfully managed through restorative justice and an increase in participation of citizens in the criminal justice process.
At the heart of every restorative justice process is a damaged relationship. The person who caused harm has negatively impacted the lives of real people and real communities. Without strong relationships, it becomes more difficult for us to lead fulfilling lives and create communities that we want to live in. Using the Restorative Justice Community Group Conference process, we are able to mend these relationships. Once the person who caused harm becomes accountable for their actions and begins to make amends, the relationship can start to heal.
If relationships are at the heart of restorative justice, respect is the key ingredient to make it happen. Respect keeps the process safe. All involved parties are trusted to show respect for themselves and for others at all stages of the process. We employ deep listening, where instead of assuming we know what the speaker is going to say, we focus on what they are actually saying. Even if we disagree with their thinking, we try to understand their perspective.
In order for restorative justice to be effective, everyone must grapple with their own personal responsibility. We ask that everyone is honest with themselves and searches deeply in their hearts to discover how they might have had a hand in the matter. Even if the harm was unintentional, the person who caused harm needs to take responsibility for their actions. Ultimately, taking responsibility needs to be a personal choice and cannot be imposed on someone unwillingly.
After respect and responsibility have been established, the next step towards healing is the repair process. The person who caused harm is expected to repair the harm that they did to the fullest extent possible, knowing well that not all of the harm can be repaired. The repair principle replaces thoughts of revenge and punishment, instead focusing on moving forward in a more positive direction. It is through working to repair the situation that the person who caused harm is able to regain their self-respect and respect for others.
In order to complete the process, the community allows the person who caused harm to accept responsibility and begin the reintegration process. Reintegration encourages collaboration of the community and the person who caused harm rather than turning toward coercion and isolation. This process recognizes the assets the person who caused harm brings to the table and what they have learned through the process. By accepting responsibility and agreeing to repair the harm, the person who caused harm creates space and trust to be reintegrated into the community.