Sometimes it’s just important to thank a friend who steps up. Thanks, Ellen DeGeneres, for sharing this story.
I have no strong comments about this item in the New York Times, except for the fact that it seems to raise a significant red flag for those of us who call for alternative sentencing, restorative justice and community-based solutions to over-reliance on incarceration.
Are there massive flaws in the process of selecting halfway houses for inmates?
Sometimes it’s just right to acknowledge the First Nations people who keep Restorative Justice alive.
Native peoples keep alive a tradition of restoring offenders to their communities. Just as many Christians believe in the power or restoration and reconciliation, many native peoples also sustain a belief in community. Shown here, in Seattle, WA, a flash gathering comes together to unite in drumming and expressing life’s rhythm.
If you’re passionate about restorative justice, Atlanta’s Georgia State University is interested in hearing about the work you are doing.
A few years ago, Georgia State University created an online clearinghouse on restorative justice. I’ve been exploring it for a couple of years. It’s an outstanding resource.
Carolyn Benne worked with GSU’s law school and the school of social work, using a combination of federal funds and foundation grants, to make this project happen. GSU’s I.T. sharpies helped her with the mechanics. No doubt, Carolyn drew on her business, legal and organizational skills to navigate the inter-departmental politics and launch the site. Her multiple degrees from Duke University probably came into play, too.
The site has been around awhile, and now it’s time to beef up the base and get serious about the business of Restorative Justice in the southeastern U.S.
The intent of the GSU website is to enhance and strengthen the RJ field by:
- Sharing knowledge;
- Explicitly seeking opportunities to connect people and scholars with one another;
- Exposing users to both knowledge and programmatic activities that might spark creativity, broaden applications of RJ principles and improve RJ practices; and,
- Offering a social networking activity that strengthens connectivity among RJ people, scholars, and those seeking restorative justice information, especially in the Southeastern US.
Recently, Carolyn Benne wrote to supporters:
“We would like to establish a core of at least 50 initial entries so that we can distribute the site more broadly and have some actual “substance” to share. [Editor's Note: the site always has included plenty of substance.] We’re starting with people like you, whom we’ve worked with before, so that we know that the foundation on which we are building will be strong. Our objective is to form communities of practice and initiate scholarly work from the connections made on the site.
A crying need in the restorative justice field is to create a solid database of research which demonstrates the effectiveness of restorative practices as compared to the more harsh practices of the punishment-oriented criminal justice system.
As a reader of Fairnessworks.com, it’s possible you’re not professional practitioner of restorative justice. But chances are high that you want to help build a structure for peacemaking and restorative practices. Search your mind and share this message with any professionals who might want to join the GSU network. These might include counselors, lawyers, social workers, law enforcement officers, ministers or teachers. Or even parents and coaches who routinely handle conflicts and want to handle them better. Consider asking someone to submit an entry.
As Carolyn writes:
It’s very easy to submit an entry. Just go to the site:
, and click on the “share” tab in the upper right corner. The instructions are right there. You don’t need to write very much. A few lines with your perspective are all we’re looking for.
If you have ideas, or would like to learn more about building an outstanding resource for restorative principles, please contact Carolyn. Here is her contact info:
Carolyn G. Benne
College of Law
Georgia State University
Georgians and southeastern U.S. residents have an amazing resource in GSU and in Carolyn Benne. I hope you will send her your support!
Seldom do the mainstream media invest serious column inches in Restorative Justice. Monday’s New York Times broke the long silence in its groundbreaking journalism, headlined: ‘Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?‘
Friends, this is an article that screams, “Forward Me!.”
In a nutshell, freelance writer Paul Tullis chronicles the tragic story of two Florida families facing a murder among loved ones. A teenage son, Conor McBride, shot in the head his girlfriend, Ann Margaret Grosmaire, killing her after 30-plus hours of fighting and arguing in person, on the phone and in text messages.
Parents with deep and abiding faith chose to forgive the slaughter. There is nothing glib in this story. A grueling process ensued, which is described in the NYT story. Not a single participant is “soft on crime.” The hard work of justice that restores is depicted in this complex drama.
The surviving families confront the limitations of a criminal justice system, which is focused primarily on dispensing severe punishment. In the face of their decisions to choose the painful path of forgiveness, they encounter the shortcomings of the punitive criminal justice system at every turn.
Their decisions to forgive run counter to the prevailing system of severe punishment.
Writer Paul Tullis does not gloss over the ambiguities of a restorative justice approach. There is nothing simple about this process. But he describes the intensity of the restorative community conference, consisting of everyone touched by the tragedy, including the prosecutor, the families of the son and daughter, a pastor and the attorneys involved in the process.
Tullis is especially effective in describing how the restorative justice process attempts to address the harms perpetrated on human beings who are the victims of crimes. Giving crime victims the opportunity to be heard, at length, about the harms done to them is a central feature of restorative justice.
As the nation faces the impossibility of warehousing ever-increasing numbers of its citizens, stories about the healing available through restorative processes are certain to gain wider acceptance. Finding ways of reconciling victims and offenders with each other will be increasingly crucial to the systems we use to seek justice.
The snappy headline comes from the Columbus Dispatch on October 2, 2012, in a report written by Randy Ludlow.
Roman Catholic sisters board the bus in Ohio to speak our for Catholic social justice teachings, caring for “the least of these” in the federal budget.
A group of Roman Catholic nuns launched a 1,000-mile anti-poverty bus tour across Ohio on Wednesday to call for a federal budget “that affirms the life of all God’s children — not just the wealthiest few.”
Led by Sister Simone Campbell, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, the tour will take them to Catholic social service agencies across the swing state which stand to lose significant funding if the budget proposals of Republican vice presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) are passed.
Their Nuns on the Bus Tour message echoes the campaign last year of Sojourners magazine, a progressive Protestant publication, which rallied public support for the idea that a budget is a moral document, because of the values it represents through its funding priorities. Sojourners’ Jim Wallis wrote in his blog, God’s Politics, that the Republican budget proposal “is an immoral document.”
In Wallis’ testimony on Aug. 1, 2011 as part of a call from faith leaders across the religious spectrum urging Congress to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit for low- and moderate-income Americans, Wallis said:
Here is what the debate reveals from the highest moral lens: the House GOP budget wants to extend tax cuts and credits for the wealthiest people of our society while cutting tax benefits for the poorest — including millions of low-income working families with children at risk.
Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne wrote in a recent column:
Sister Simone points to a study from Bread for the World, a nonpartisan group that advocates on hunger issues, to suggest one useful line of questioning. To make up for the food stamp cuts in Ryan’s budget, the group found, “every church in the country would have to come up with approximately $50,000 dedicated to feeding people — every year for the next 10 years.” Can government walk away like this? Can we realistically expect our houses of worship to pick up such a tab?
I say, “Keep on truckin’ (or busin’), Sister Simone!”
So reads a headline in the International Herald Tribune, (“the Global edition of the New York Times”) on September 23, 2012.
Reporter Mark McDonald takes a semi-humorous tone in his story of the raging territorial conflict among China, Taiwan and Japan. By any standard, the uninhabited real estate is hardly picturesque or post card quality. As McDonald reports, the islets in dispute “are little more than remote shards of guano-covered rock.”
In any mediation or peacemaking project, it’s probably not wise to ridicule the parties or belittle the claimants. Still, “guano-covered rocks”? From my comfortable distance of many thousand miles away, living in a culture neither Japanese or Chinese, it’s easy dismiss this as a meaningless, petty dispute.
The real dispute over the islands is not about oil, gas, sea lanes or fishing rights. Instead, the prevailing emotion is a leftover bitterness from the war, combined with the persistent image of an insufficiently repentant Japan. As the analyst Daniel Sneider told Rendezvous. “It’s not about territory. It’s not about these rocks. It’s about much, much more. It’s identity, first and foremost. It’s pride.”
As the U.N. General Assembly met this week in New York, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Japan and China to “let cool heads prevail.”
China traces its land claim as far back as the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). This week, Japan stepped up its campaign to win the support of the global community for its claim on the islands.
Even when it comes to “remote shards of guano-covered rock,” disputes are deeply real to the parties involved.
Consider this: the reading scores of your 3rd grade child and her classmates helps prison planners project the number of jail cells that will be needed within a decade. (Do you ever envision your elementary school child behind prison bars?)
The prison prediction aphorism is popular among advocates for early childhood intervention and tutoring. This startling factoid grabbed my attention as I was attending an informational meeting at my church in south suburban Atlanta, GA, recently. About 20 of us heard this arresting news from the director of an after-school tutoring program, Path to Shine. We attended as potential volunteers. Our hope is to create a chapter in our parish.
Several teachers, both active and retired, were in the meeting, and were not at all shocked by the statement. People close to the classroom know the statement points to a truth they know from experience. It was clear to them that early intervention to help children learn to read and love to learn can change the path of their lives. They seemed to know the reality of the school-to-prison pipeline.
The Atlantic Monthly, in a July 12 report, called the popular nugget into question, but hedged its bets with the headline, “An Urban Myth that Should be True.” The writer, John Hudson, questioned the literal statement but proceeded to make a case for its essential truth. Click on the link and read the story. Let me know what YOU think. Or, share it on Facebook and see what your friends say.
Setting aside for a moment the literal accuracy of the jarring factoid, I was still trying to digest the concept of a “school-to-prison pipeline” when I came across the even more shocking idea, the “cradle-to-prison pipeline.”
“Many people have heard about the school-to-prison pipeline — how harsh school discipline policies funnel kids into the criminal justice system. Last month, the Children’s Defense Fund issued its 2012 report on the State of America’s Children, whose data show how black children move through the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline at higher rates than any other group.”
If a few volunteer hours a week could keep a kid in your neighborhood from going to prison, wouldn’t you consider the time well-spent?
The Children’s Defense Fund produced this slide presentation to illustrate the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline.
Students at Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Michigan thought it would be hilarious to elect someone they considered unpopular to the Homecoming Court. Little did they know their cruel bullying prank would rally the town’s support for the young woman who was the butt of their “joke.”
In the small town of West Branch, MI, located a half hour north of Saginaw, the 16-year-old sophomore, Whitney Kropp, won the election. The Detroit News reports that after her election her classmates pointed at her and laughed when they passed her in the hall. The male student who was elected with her, a popular football player, quickly withdrew because he didn’t want to be associated with her. Francis X. Donnelly (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) reported in the Detroit News story. Some cyber bullying was involved, too, in the form of cruel Facebook messages.
Word of the bad joke quickly spread around the town, reminding some alums of bullying they had experienced years ago, as if the bullying had occurred recently, the newspaper reported:
A Facebook support page was created, quickly drawing hundreds of messages of encouragement. The page has more likes (more than 3,500) than the town has people (2,100).
“A bank account was opened for Whitney Kropp’s homecoming expenses but wasn’t needed. So many businesses donated services that everything was covered.”
Local businesses stepped up:
For the homecoming dance Saturday, businesses will buy her dinner, take her photo, fix her hair and nails, and dress her in a gown, shoes and a tiara. For the homecoming game Friday, residents will pack the football stadium so they can cheer when she is introduced at halftime. They will be wearing her favorite color (orange) and T-shirts with messages of support. A 68-year-old grandmother offered to be her escort.
An alumnus of Whitney Kropp’s high school, who was also the victim of bullying as an underclass member, recorded a video in support of her, which appeared on The Huffington Post. Bullying also plagued an alumnus of Whitney Kropp’s high school. He created a video in her support.
School has been back in session in the U.S. for awhile now and officials are dealing with bullying issues once again.
There is spotty evidence that some districts are looking beyond Zero Tolerance policies and automatic expulsion or suspension of kids who bully their classmates. In these districts, there is a conscious policy choice to use restorative practices first instead of punitive practices such as expulsion and suspension.
In the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, School District, schools are implementing a comprehensive change program to address bullying, known as the SaferSanerSchools Whole School Change Program, developed by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP).
Rather than reflexively opt for immediate expulsion or suspension of kids who bully others, these districts are attempting to bring the bullied and the bully together with all their classmates into restorative circles to address the misbehavior as a community. The goal is accountability and community restoration rather than isolation, alienation, suspension, expulsion and stigmatization. It’s a first step toward interrupting the schools-to-prison pipeline.
It’s a risky proposition, and it takes more time than a rigid “throw the bully out” approach. But it holds the real possibility of keeping the bullying offender and the bullying victim together in community, rather than placing one more child in the school-to-prison pipeline. The statistics on expulsion and suspension are clear: each incident of suspension or expulsion increases the child’s chances of ending up in prison.
Programs such as SaferSanerSchools requires participation of the entire school community, from students and teachers to administrators, parents and even cafeteria and janitorial staffs. Successful implementation requires involvement of the entire community, since bullying affects everyone in the school community.
In one dramatic example:
Suspensions, expulsions, fights, bullying and other forms of poor student behavior dropped at Freedom and Liberty high schools during the 2011-12 school year, documents show.
The improved discipline picture is a reversal of 2009-10 and 2010-11 when infractions went up in the Bethlehem Area School District‘s two high schools as part of a district-wide increase of 36 percent.
Compared with the 2010-11 school year, suspensions dropped 20 percent to 978 in 2011-12. The number of students in suspension three times or more went down 43 percent to 493 at the two high schools over the same time frame, according to the Code of Conduct report, which separates offenses into three levels of severity.
Restorative practices and restorative circles allow the victims to be heard, the harms done to them to be recognized. Restorative practices even permit the bully to say why he or she was aggressive in the first place. Using restorative practices, all members of the community share in the process, expressing their experiences of the harms that have been done by the bullying of their fellow community members. All members of the community, all stakeholders, share a part in the communal response.
Ideally, even the parents of the bully and the bullied are present for the restorative circle conference. For restorative practices to have their maximum effect, all parties participate in these restorative circles, or accountability sessions, as the community asserts its values. Ideally, the bully and the bullied are restored to community and neither is stigmatized or ostracized.
For more information about restorative practices, contact:
IIRP Graduate School
531 Main St.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA