Last month I had the pleasure of attending two different events related to my work in restorative justice. This post will address the opportunity to meet with a group in Harrisonburg.
On the 24th I traveled to Harrisonburg the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice, part of Eastern Mennonite University to participate in a workshop with Howard Zehr and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz. The Institute hosted a group of judges, social workers, and attorneys from Brazil who are working to bring restorative justice into their schools and judicial systems. During their time at EMU, they had the opportunity to visit the Harrisonburg City Schools and the Harrisonburg Police Department and Prince George’s County where they could see RJ in action.
The participants engaged with area experts during meetings and panel discussions on topics such as Restorative Justice and Community Building with EMU faculty Kathy Evans and Carl Stauffer.
We joined the participants on their second full day in Virginia, charged with discussing some challenging topics about Restorative Justice and the law. We started the morning with Howard’s presentation about the principles and values of restorative justice. Lorraine then addressed two particular issues: restorative justice in crimes of severe violence and restorative justice and domestic violence.
This presentation gave me the opportunity to discuss another difficult question ( but one of my favorites): how can lawyers practice law consistent with restorative justice, with or without a program? This is the subject of my day-to-day work. I’ve also nearly completed the manuscript of Outcome Blind, my book exploring the topic of bringing restorative justice into the everyday practice of law. We can look at this complex, yet fundamental, question by starting with the principles and values of restorative justice. Any activity, whether it be a meeting with a client, a mediation, or a sentencing hearing, may be evaluated against those principles. Each practice can be placed on a continuum, with those that are most restorative at one end (such as a well-run victim-offender dialog) and least restorative at the other (for example, an adversarial trial where the stakeholders are not permitted to participate in the proceeding.) With this type of inquiry, any lawyer, in any place. can find ways to make any process more inclusive, more collaborative and focused on meeting needs.
The judges, lawyers, prosecutors, professors and community members participating in the program, brought a great deal of wisdom, experience, and enthusiasm to the discussion. Judge Leoberto Brancher is a juvenile court judge who has brought restorative justice into his courtroom and launched RJ based programs, through educational opportunities, throughout Brazil. A retired judge, Isabel Lima, was instrumental in bringing the group to EMU, began using RJ in her courtroom in the 1990’s after being approached at a conference in New Zealand by a participant who asked how she was incorporating restorative justice in the classroom. She continued to work in RJ and help draft the first statutory provisions about restorative justice in Brazil. Judge Lima visited EMU last spring, and that trip lead to the development of the fall program that I was able to join.
I am always excited to be in a room with folks who are as dedicated as I am to working for justice and peace. This morning was no exception. I found the morning particularly invigorating, witnessing the enthusiasm and creativity of the guests from Brazil who are working to find ways to bring the healing that comes with restorative justice to their communities.