Paradox: "a person or thing exhibiting apparently contradictory characteristics" Collins English Dictionary
Paradox 1 - RP is something new and yet something very old
The origins of Restorative Justice are generally considered to have arisen in the 1970's from a number of countries. One seminal case was in Canada where a probation officer, Mark Yanzi, was instrumental in having a couple of young offenders visit the victims in all 22 of their crimes (who said it was the soft way?) At the same time many of our own ancient Brehon laws were essentially civil in nature and offenders had to answer directly to the victim or victim's representatives. If one wounded someone who was the sole support for a family, then they were fined for the actual injury, medical expenses and the payment of any substitute needed to carry out the injured person's work (a case of the victim vs Joe Bloggs rather than our modern State vs Joe Bloggs - see the difference?). Restorative practice is only around twenty years old, yet the central messages of respect, fairness and listening are timeless and present in every major religion around the world.
Paradox 2 - RP is something very, very simple yet incredibly complex
Restorative practice happens in families, preschools and early primary school yards every day without any great thought. Incidents or fights happen, kids are brought together and usually, without much fuss, the thing is resolved and everyone moves on about their day. Then people get a little older, systems get a little (or a lot) tighter, procedures get longer and a misunderstanding in work can grow completely out of hand. A GAA club had all underage activities ceased last year for a time, and it started because a coach liked the odd swear word and some of the parents didn't. And they didn't know how to resolve it. We know that people are complex and that why there's more than one way with RP to address issues when they arise.
Paradox 3 - RP is for rehabilitating offenders yet it is also for victims
A lot of people focus on whether restorative justice programs are "an easy option" for offenders. Are they "only doing it to see what's in it for them?" These are very valid and very important questions to ask. At the same time, it is equally valid and equally important to look at things from the standpoint of a victim. If it is predetermined that certain offenders are not eligible for RJ programs (e.g. repeat offenders) then what of those victims? Do they not get a say in matters just because "their" bag snatcher was on his 10th bag as opposed to his first. Restorative Justice responds to the needs of the victims. In our homes and schools we often step in and decide (albeit with good intentions) what we think is best for the person harmed and the person who has caused harm. Research shows that what's best is to give them a say in the process. It reduces stress and PTSD, increases empathy and harmony and even reduces later instances of crime.
Paradox 4 - RP is reactive yet it is also proactive
This is maybe the biggest confusion for people. Everyone thinks it is about harm, crime, conflict resolution, repair and conferences. And it 100% is. At the same time it is also 101% about "silly questions" in the morning, doing those ice-breaker games that you "ask the kids to do but never do yourself", remembering what it is like to be a kid again and experience life as a young person because we (nearly) all get a little "boring" as we get older. RP is making a cup of tea for someone, or asking what they want to watch on TV tonight. RP believes it is easier to build and maintain a good relationship than repair a broken one. (That why I like to give the proactive side 101%)
Paradox 5 - RP is common sense yet it is also counter intuitive
A famous (or infamous) case happened once where a shoplifter had to wear a sandwich board outside the shop he stole from, with a message on it saying he was a shoplifter. This outcome came from a restorative conference, chaired by a trained facilitator and everyone thought it was restorative. It wasn't. It was shaming the young person. Sometimes you have to listen to the "wrongdoer's" story first. They have usually been a victim at some time in the past. It doesn't mean you won't address what happened or won't respond to the "victim". Sometimes there is no clear "wrongdoer" or "victim". At the end of the day, the first step is always to just listen.
RP has all these paradoxes. isn't perfect, but it doesn't have to be. There is a tendency to compare new programs to perfection and to criticize them then when they fail to live up to this supposed perfection. RP just needs to be better than the alternative and it is - by a distance. If you don't believe, I'll get you the research.
That's restorative practice
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it.