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Family Nonviolence, Inc. has instituted a Restorative Justice Task Force that meets monthly and is committed to the goal of assisting the greater New Bedford community (including the criminal justice system) in implementing restorative justice policies and practices in it various structures to promote peace and reconciliation.

Basic Concepts of Restorative Justice

There are three basic “pillars” on which Restorative Justice is based.

First, it focuses on the harm that has been done to people and to communities. It begins with a concern for victims and their needs. It seeks to repair the harm that has been done as much as possible, even when no offender has been identified. It also recognizes that there has been harm to the community and to the offender as well as the identified victim or victims.

Second, Restorative Justice emphasizes offender accountability and responsibility. Offenders must be encouraged to understand the harm that they have done and to recognize that they have a responsibility to make things right as much as possible.

Third, the primary parties affected by the crime – victims, offenders, members of the community – need to have significant roles in the restorative justice process. In some cases this may mean dialogue between these parties. It may mean sharing stories of the incident of the crime itself – what happened and how it affected those involved – as well as deciding about what should be done to help “restore” the peace and relationships within the community.

“Restorative Justice requires, at minimum, that we address victims’ harms and needs, hold offenders accountable to put right those harms, and involve victims, offenders, and communities in this process.” (from The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr)

Models for Restorative Justice practice

Since this approach to dealing with interpersonal conflict and crime emerged from the original practice in aboriginal societies, in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, three main types of models have emerged.

Victim-Offender Conferences

These primarily involve victims and offenders who are first interviewed individually by a trained facilitator. If both parties seem willing to proceed with meeting together, they are brought together by the facilitator who guides the process.
This would normally result in a signed agreement as to how restitution can be made (although this is not likely in cases of severe violence

Family Group Conferences

This model involves family members of the victim and offender as well as any others who have an interest in or have a significant relationship to either the victim or the offender. Since the focus is not only on recognizing the harm done to the victim but also holding the offender accountable, it is important to include the offender’s family members and other significant persons in his/her life. Besides victim and offender family members other participants could include such persons as police officers, probation officers, victim advocates, and youth workers

Peacemaking Circles

In the circle process participants arrange themselves in a circle. They pass around a “talking piece’ which is used to indicate who the speaker of the moment is. One or two “Circle Keepers” or “Circle Servants” serve as facilitators of the circle. Members of the circle may include not only victims and offenders but also family members, members of the criminal justice system, community members who have a connection to either the offender or the victim. In the process of the Peacemaking Circle the person who holds the talking piece is the one who speaks and the person speaks about his or her own experience and does not lecture or address anyone else in the circle.

Relationship to the Criminal Justice System

Restorative Justice does not seek to replace the criminal justice system. It is viewed as an adjunct to the present legal process. Prosecutors may make a referral either pre or post plea and defer prosecution until there is an outcome in the restorative justice process. The restorative justice practice can sentence as well as order restitution. Then the court may drop the case. It is recognized that the criminal justice system is always a court of last resort.

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