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Restorative Justice Unleashed

Posted by Ryan Hall

By Scott Brown // A Campaign Nonviolence Associate.
Scott will be traveling throughout the U.S. from June through December 2016 speaking about his forthcoming book, Active Peace, and the importance of Restorative Justice. Learn more about his tour here.

Greetings Friends!

As I prepare to launch the 50-city Active Peace book tour, one of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to talk about restorative justice in a social change context. It’s time to bring these wildly successful principles and practices to bear on the full range of social and environmental issues and conflicts!

Just imagine if all the energy that goes into fighting other people and reinforcing the belief in separateness was instead directed at showing respect for people and giving priority to relationships. What if the Five R’s of restorative justice—respect, relationship, responsibility, repair, and reintegration—were guiding principles of our activism? What if elected officials and other decision-makers adopted the Five R’s and we could actually meet in an open field of trust and real dialogue?

Naive? Maybe, but is it less naive to think we can continue with business as usual and survive?

In Active Peace: A Mindful Path to a Nonviolent World I explore the Five R’s of restorative justice and how they could be used beyond the confines of the criminal justice system. For example, I consider how restorative justice could be used to address British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s an excerpt from the book that sets the stage for using the questions that flow from the Five R’s:

In choosing such an extreme event, an event that killed eleven workers and a tremendous amount of marine life, and caused such a huge amount of ecological and economic damage, my intention is to show the flexibility and potential of a restorative process. I invite you to compare it, as imperfect, slow, and messy as it would likely be if actually used to address something as significant and complicated as the BP oil spill, with the bureaucratic, lawsuit driven process that actually unfolded as a result of the spill. You’ll need to use your imagination and your common sense.

It’s been several years since the explosion and the beginning of the spill on April 20, 2010. Has the harm to people and the environment been repaired? Has full responsibility been taken? Have systems-level change been made to assure that such a disaster will never—can never—happen again? I suspect the answer to all these questions is a resounding “No.”

Obviously, there is no quick fix to something as disastrous as the BP oil spill, and I hope it will be equally obvious that what follows is not intended as such. I simply hold it up as a possibility—one that could serve to move us in a life-affirming, nonviolent direction.

It’s important to remember that the context is an atmosphere of respect. Without respect nothing approaching full restoration is possible. In using this process in a situation where the harm has yet to occur, respect is the absolute starting point since people won’t come to the table without it. When the harm has already occurred, as in a criminal justice context or with the BP oil spill, responsibility is the logical starting point since people won’t come to the table, and there won’t be respect, if responsibility hasn’t been taken.

With the understanding that this process is non-adversarial by nature, imagine a group of people who are most affected, and representatives of the groups most affected, coming together with those willing to take their share of responsibility (regulators, elected officials, and industry representatives). Add in some respected community members with no axe to grind—people who can see the big picture, and some facilitators responsible for orchestrating the process.

The many people in the sectors impacted: the families of those killed and injured, the oil and gas workers as a group, shrimpers, fisherman, property owners, the tourism industry, and environmentalists speaking on behalf of wildlife and the ecosystem have already come together. They’ve elected the people who will represent their interests in the larger group and come to some initial shared understanding about the harm and who is responsible for it. How to repair the harm will come later, once the harm is fully understood and those responsible have had the opportunity to step forward. These stakeholder groups have already adopted and practiced the restorative mindset; they want healing, not revenge. The community representatives have taken lots of community input and are prepared to bring that pain and the local knowledge to the process.

Mechanisms are in place so the many people who can’t be in the room and the public at large can have meaningful input. All meetings will be recorded, anyone who wants to will be able to see and hear every second of it.

Imagine the participants—the primary stakeholders— all sitting in a large circle where every voice counts, where everyone is respected. No table separates them. In the middle of the circle, each participant has placed something that reminds them why they are participating, a photograph perhaps. Imagine an opening statement acknowledging the pain and anger in the room and the enormity of the task ahead—the repair of a tremendous, nearly inconceivable amount of harm. Imagine a final reminder of the ground rules that will keep the process respectful and allow everyone to be heard, and a final reminder that this is a healing circle. Imagine everyone being invited to take some deep breaths and to connect with their highest selves in whatever way that works for each. Then the questions unfold, in an order that makes sense, guided by the facilitators and with no artificial time constraints, with the ultimate intention of, not punishment but repair of the harm.

For more on this theme, including the specific questions flowing from the Five R’s, please see my blog and, of course, the book (available in early July through Amazon or the Collins Foundation Press).

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