People are less likely to hurt one another if they feel they share a common ground.
Getting them to know one another, understand the hurt they have caused and giving them a chance to make things right is part of restorative justice, a growing worldwide social movement that is the focus of several events being held this week in Rochester. The featured guest of Restorative Rochester Week is Dominic Barter, who developed restorative circles in Brazil, one of several restorative justice practices.
The week-long program has included several sessions with Barter, culminating Saturday with a community-wide conference at City Hall, “Next Steps: Restorative Practices in Rochester.”
The week’s activities were organized by Restorative Rochester, a voluntary association of organizations and individuals, through the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester.
Barter has been sharing his concepts and training groups on how to implement his system’s style which, like restorative justice, focuses on the bigger picture of all who are harmed by offenders, whether in a classroom fight or neighborhood gang violence.
A native of London, he learned firsthand about violence while living in Brazil, where Rio de Janeiro’s shanty towns were plagued by drug gangs. Instead of fearing the violence, he said he sought to understand why it was happening. He went into the towns and listened to what their residents had to say, gained the trust of children who introduced him to their older siblings, and continued building on the relationships he formed.
Barter said he felt privileged that the residents not only started to trust him, but also began to confide in him their own fears about what was happening around them.
“Being afraid and not listening yourself and avoiding conflict, that’s what’s dangerous,” he said. “The conflict has to speak louder to get your attention. The way to raise the volume is to violate others.”
He said restorative justice looks not at who has done wrong, but what needs are not being met. Restorative circles, in which people gather in a circle, offer a forum to reach agreements to help sustain and nurture relationships.
Barter, who has studied the role of conflict in society and personal change since the 1980s, was tapped by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice in 2004 to start a pilot training program to share nonviolent options with young people. He said it involved swapping nasty ideas for an understanding of the needs and values they had in common.
“What they claim is that it’s extremely hard to hurt each other when they see each other as similar,” Barter said. Restorative justice processes are now used in 15 countries.
Kit Miller, director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, based at the University of Rochester, sees restorative justice as a means to bring greater peace to the Rochester community. She is one of a group of supporters who founded Restorative Rochester in February.
Miller, who has been involved with nonviolent organizations in various capacities for more than 15 years, said almost 100 percent of the violent offenders she encounters through her service started out in the criminal justice system as a youth. A community goal should be to reach youths at their first encounters with the system, and lead them down a different path.
“Restorative justice is a community-based response when harm or violence occurs,” she said. “When we see people as a whole person, we don’t want to throw them away.”
She said the circumstances that lead people to violence also should be considered. Restorative Rochester’s plan is to work in schools, neighborhoods and courts to change the criminal justice process from the bottom up.
“I ask people what would it be like to live in a community where something really different happened when people get into trouble,” Miller said. “A bunch of people have said, ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to see what would happen.’”
The Rochester Restorative Times, a newspaper the 20-member group created, is dated 2015 to reflect some of the changes they hope to achieve.
Restorative Rochester Week’s events kicked off Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“We felt it important to offer people a proactive way to ‘What do I do about the fact that I’m still angry about 9/11?’” Miller said. “We’ve been basically trying to help people in Rochester get to know what Restorative Rochester is.”
Restorative Rochester has worked with local courts, including Rochester’s Problem-Solving Courts led by Monroe County Court Judge Patricia D. Marks, which Miller said are now testing some restorative justice practices.
Restorative Rochester also is training staff and students at area schools and getting other community groups involved. Miller said Rochester Institute of Technology also has incorporated restorative justice practices into its disciplinary system as part of a pilot program.
Restorative Rochester Week sponsors included the Center for Dispute Settlement, American Baptist Churches of the Rochester-Genesee Region, SUNY Brockport, Center for Youth, Rochester Area Mennonite Fellowship, University of Rochester, Partners in Restorative Initiatives, Step by Step, MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and the Department of Criminal Justice at Rochester Institute of Technology.
To learn more:
On Saturday: “Next Steps: Restorative Practices in Rochester,” a community-wide conference including idea-sharing sessions, live music and comments from local leaders, 1 to 5 p.m., City Hall, 121 N. Fitzhugh St.
To attend a restorative circle training or practice group, contact Judith Lardner: firstname.lastname@example.org; (585) 317-9168.