Depending on where you are located, there may be existing or emerging efforts at the municipal, county, or state level to provide or call for use of restorative practices in response to crime and harm.
By partnering with external organizations dedicated to restorative justice, Catholic ministries can help these initiatives thrive and grow. This demonstrates a commitment to the larger development of restorative justice beyond your institution.
Examples Can Include
Partnering with a local restorative justice entity to support their efforts through community representation or other needed resources.
Collaborating with local coalitions to call for access to victim-offender dialogue or community conferencing.
Advocating for policies that support, fund, and protect restorative justice processes.
In Policy and Systems Change
As of 2019, 35 states have laws establishing restorative justice for criminal justice and school discipline.7
The articulation of restorative justice varies generally in state statutes and codes; however, common themes are pervasive across jurisdictions, such as holding offenders accountable; involving victims and the community in the justice process; obligating the offender to pay restitution to the victim and/or a victims’ fund; improving a juvenile’s ability to live more productively and responsibly in the community; and securing safer communities (Bazemore, 1997).
Restorative practices are increasingly being incorporated within state statutes and codes. Twenty states specifically address restorative practices, such as victim-offender dialogue or community conferencing.
Historically, Oregon was one of the first states to adopt "statues" articulating restorative justice principles. The Illinois Juvenile Court Act was another landmark development.
Most recently, Colorado adopted statewide legislation to implement systemic reform integrating restorative justice policies and practices in its Children’s Code and in its Victim’s Rights Act. Progressive prosecutors are also shaping use of practices as diversionary tactics as seen in the District of Columbia and San Francisco.
As Catholics concerned about criminal justice advocate for restorative justice in policy at the state, county, or municipal level, there are several themes to be aware of and sensitive to:
Recognizing the broad spectrum of opportunities for restorative justice interventions from diversion to sentencing to reintegration .
Shaping policy that is racially equitable, trauma-informed, and resilience focused.
Ensuring the voluntariness of each party’s participation and confidentiality of process.
Providing training and technical assistance among justice system stakeholders, along with capacity building at the community level to inform, resource, and sustain the mandates of the legislation.
Guarding against co-optation, when an institution uses restorative practices to reinforce existing power dynamics and injustices rather than transforming them (e.g., white defendant being referred to restorative justice dialogue and Black defendant being incarcerated).
Exercising caution that new policies and procedures do not “widen the net” or expand the reach of the criminal legal system by taking cases that would have otherwise not been handled by courts.
There are a number of states where Catholic conferences and dioceses have been instrumental in shaping and advancing restorative justice policy.
When these opportunities arise, it is important that we aim to ensure fidelity to restorative justice principles, in addition to the use of its practices.
"RJ and Legal Practice" (Virtual Plenary Panel from CMN's 2020 Conference on Restorative Justice, featuring Lara Bazelon, Mary Novak, Senator Pete Lee, and Thalia González)