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Restorative Justice

How Restorative Justice Can Help Everyone Impacted by Crime

Restorative justice is a philosophical approach to dealing with crime in the community and working to repair some (or in some cases, all) of the damage. It invokes the participation of victims, the community, and offenders. Dr. Howard Zehr, a scholar in restorative justice says we need to ask 3 questions: (1) what is the harm; (2) what needs to be done to repair the harm; and (3) who is responsible for the repair?

Restorative justice focuses on the ripple effect of crime against an individual or the community. Victims have the opportunity to express the full impact the crime has had on their lives, to receive answers to lingering questions about the incident (often times, the unanswered why me question), and to participate in holding the offender accountable for their actions and the impact they have caused. Offenders can tell their side of the story, such as why the crime occurred and how it has affected them personally. Offenders are given the opportunity to help in the healing process of the victim to whatever degree possible. Restorative justice helps support victims and communities in the hearing process—something traditional courts and punishments have ignored.

Sure, that all sounds fine and dandy but how does that actually get accomplished? Victim offender dialogues and healing circles are two methods that have made their way into the criminal justice system. With victim offender dialogues, offenders and victims will meet one on one (with a restorative justice facilitator) and both parties have the ability to dig deep into the impact of the crime. Victims can leave feeling empowered, back in control, feeling able to forgive and move on while offenders can leave feeling humbled and honored that they may be worthy of forgiveness for their mistakes.

Healing circles involve a variety of participants from victims, to offenders, to family and friends, and members of the community. The point is to invite a diverse group of people with different perspectives to partake in the discussion. As with the victim offender dialogues, a facilitator will be present but the discussion is led by the circle and everyone has an equal place in the circle. A vital part of the circle is a preselected talking piece. Participants in the circle will only be allowed to talk when they are holding the talking piece. When you speak with the talking piece, you honor the Native American tradition of the piece by speaking honestly. Besides speaking honestly, the participants in the circle must engage in active listening. The guidelines for circles don’t permit crosstalk and no one in the circle is forced to speak unless they want to. The point is to have participants speak from the heart and from their own experiences and then in return, deeply listen to the other participants as they do the same. At the conclusion of the circle, all members will pass along the talking piece and give their thoughts on how the circle went or perhaps share one word that describes how they felt about the process.

Questions and topics for circles will vary depending on the reason for the circle. Community circles have recently been more prevalent with crimes such as operating while intoxicated or graffiti—crimes where the ripple is truly felt by everyone in the circle. Generally the circle will start off by discussing who was harmed or impacted and will follow with what is needed and how we can work toward healing the harm (ie the questions posed by Dr. Zehr in the first paragraph of this post). If you are thinking about facilitating a circle, you should seek additional resources for guidance.[1]

Restorative justice isn’t a new concept, but it’s not something many people have heard of and it’s not something that’s being utilized as much as it could be (or should be) in the criminal justice system.

Our legal team at Petit & Dommershausen is here to help you. We serve the Wisconsin Fox Valley area and beyond including Appleton, Oshkosh, Green Bay, Waupaca, Chilton, Fond du Lac, Shawano and beyond. Consult us for any Criminal Defense matter at 920-739-9900.  A blog post prepared by Attorney Britteny LaFond.  Contact Attorney LaFond today!

Great outcomes don’t “just happen”.

[1] Centre for Justice & Reconcliation,