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What Are the Needs?

The question “What are the needs?” reminds us of Catholic teaching on Solidarity.

We are one human family and are called to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers. Because we are deeply interconnected in a web of relationships, harm has rippling effects.

Restorative justice sees people neither as victims in need of pity nor as offenders deserving of punishment, but rather as people whose lives have intersected through harmful behavior and whose needs (physical, material, emotional, and spiritual) must be met.

This is why family members, support people, and community members are invited to be part of restorative dialogues.

Beyond particular instances of harm, practices like circle process create opportunities to slow down, share deeply, and hear one another’s stories, honoring our common dignity.

Identifying the Type of Approach

Amid national conversations on criminal justice, one approach to restorative justice is to apply processes within the constructs of the existing criminal legal system. Others contend that because of widespread systemic racism, this system must be fundamentally transformed or abolished. 

Restorative justice seeks to reduce reliance on retributive responses to crime. Each ministry is invited to discern whether/how to work within, outside, or alongside existing systems to influence change and accomplish their goal.




Work/minister within existing institutions to meet needs of those impacted by them



Advocate for improved policies and conditions within/among existing carcerial systems



Create alternative mechanisms for addressing harm that reduce dependence upon incarceration



Envision and create conditions for a world without prisons that includes alternative mechanisms for addressing harm


Identifying the Type of Response

Because harms have rippling effects, and needs exist at multiple levels, a question to ask next is: What is your engagement intended to respond to?

Here again, you are encouraged to be specific in order to plan for effective engagement.

Justice Issue

Engagement Response

Individual Behavior

Process or accompaniment with those directly impacted

Reactions to the individual behavior

Process with those directly impacted, community education

Systemic/structural injustice

Policy advocacy or procedural change

Cultural/societal perceptions/biases

Narrative change


The following worksheet may be helpful in collecting and organizing ideas. This visual mapping exercise can also help your group locate your goal and its intended response in relation to its interconnected issues and the impacting structural/systemic components at play.

An example is provided followed by a blank worksheet for your group. 

Example Goal: Reducing Violent Crime

Intended Response to

Existing State

Desired State

Possible Action

Individual Behavior

Violent Crime

Reduced Violence

Trauma-healing, rehabilitation, and processes with those directly impacted, prevention work

Reactions to that Behavior

Incarceration, rejection by society

Personal and communal responsibility

Processes with those indirectly impacted

Systemic/Structural Injustice

Mandatory minimum sentences

Individualized processes that meet the needs of those impacted

Policy advocacy, procedural change

Cultural/Societal Perceptions

A person is defined as the worst thing they have ever done

Every person has inherent worth and dignity 

Public education, narrative change


Engagement Response Worksheet -- Click to download as PDF