Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program Keynote Address_Part 3

Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program Keynote Address_Part 3

Today’s post is the third in a 4-part post of the keynote speech I offered at last week’s Lancaster Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (LAVORP) Annual Dinner

Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2


WHEN might we apply restorative justice principles?

The last question I’d like for us to consider is when we apply restorative justice principles.

Because the word “justice” is included, we tend to carry out many restorative processes after a crime has occurred and after harm has already been done. But some of the people and places I visited got me wondering what it might look like to use restorative practices as a preventative approach in our schools, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.

  • In Boise, Idaho, an entire church congregation has opened their doors to people returning to the community after incarceration, including men convicted of sex offenses. When I visited their church, and asked about their decision to do this, they said that they saw a need to create a community of respect and support for people the rest of society actively hated and shunned. They work in close partnership with local mental health agencies, social service providers, parole officers and other experts to ensure the men they’ve welcomed into their church community get the professional treatment and counseling they need. They understand that by fostering wholeness and promoting healing in the men they’re welcoming, by creating a circle of supportive, concerned people around the men, they are helping the men to avoid returning to crime and to live as productive, law-abiding citizens who can once again become part of the fabric of their community. And by doing so, they are making their community safer for everyone.


  • In Albuquerque, New Mexico, I visited an organization called Outcomes that offers “community building circles” to “reduce the cycle of fear and social distance between youth, adults and communities.” These circles are a proactive approach to build strong, healthy relationships and a climate of mutual respect within communities – to address small conflicts and harms before they escalate to the level of a crime.


  • I met a woman from City Heights, California who is part of an extensive partnership effort that aims to turn their community into a “restorative community.” Representatives from schools, churches, businesses, government and social services are working together to foster a climate of mutual respect and equality in all of these places. They want people to feel comfortable talking about conflicts and hurt feelings. They want to create an environment where those who act in unacceptable or harmful ways are confronted – but in a way that is respectful and that helps them to develop the necessary skills to live within the norms of the community. They’re striving to be a community where the small grievances between people are resolved promptly and peacefully, before they escalate into bigger problems like fear, hatred and crime.

Using the quilt metaphor, this is akin to patching the small tears in the fabric, before they turn into large tears that are much more difficult (and in some cases, nearly impossible) to mend.

How are they trying to do this?
• City Heights will implement circle processes, restorative discipline and peer mediation in their schools as an alternative to “zero tolerance” policies that are often harmful and ineffective.
• They’re training their police officers about restorative justice and how to use restorative processes.
• They plan to teach facilitation skills, conflict resolution and circle processes to community leaders to use in their local neighborhoods and workplaces.
• Their social service agencies will utilize family group decision making and other empowerment strategies with the families they serve.

Boise, Albuquerque and City Heights aren’t the only places striving to incorporate restorative practices into the very fabric of their communities . . .

(Read about some other communities taking the “next step” in their implementation of restorative practices, and more about the seven women and their quilt in tomorrow’s post.)

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice criminal justice book tour death penalty

Next: Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program Keynote Address_Part4

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