Sawatsky, Jarem. A Shared JustPeace Ethic: Uncovering Restorative Values

Noting the rise of restorative justice as a fundamentally different alternative to the current criminal justice system, Sawatsky states that practice has generally preceded theory in this field.

By Jarem Sawatsky

Jarem is a Master of Arts student in Eastern Mennonite University's Conflict Transformation Program, majoring in restorative justice and conflict transformation.  He is currently working with the university's Institute for Justice and Peacebuilding and is on his way to teach at Menno Simons College in Manitoba, Canada.   

Nothing will change in criminal justice until we change the basic assumptions underlying the system. We've tried changing the facilities by designing new prisons; we've tried changing the roles of prison guards to corrections officers; we've tried changing the norms of how people relate. But the system has not changed.  We have not yet changed the underlying assumptions of the system.  That requires a change of values. (Howard Zehr, 2001).  

Restorative justice is a value and principle-based movement recovering justice as a central concern of victims, offenders and the community. It is more than a new, more efficient technique. It is more than a way to fine-tune the criminal justice system.  It is more than a new language for old approaches to criminal justice.  Restorative justice is a new paradigm, arising out of the failures of the old paradigm. It is a different imagination. It offers an alternative to the basic assumptions underlying the modern state system.  

Underneath the many diverse restorative justice processes is a shared-often unarticulated set of values. Part of the reason restorative justice has spread so quickly is that these shared values are not new or unique. The values of restorative justice are strikingly different from the modern justice system but share much in common with many religious traditions, indigenous cultures and diverse fields of inquiry (conflict transformation, feminist social ethics, qualitative research and the environmental movement).   

Restorative justice practitioners have been acting their way to a new way of thinking. What follows is a hindsight articulation of the values that seem to be guiding the work of justice and peace.  Restorative values are best understood as being related in a web and linked to key partner values, rather than hierarchically related.

Interconnectedness and Particularity

Interconnectedness is a holistic view that all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. JustPeace comes down to right relationship between all--people, land, structures, God. A harm/crime creates ripples of disruption to many relationships.  Interconnectedness confronts injustice (harms) with the goal of establishing a just connection.  

Interconnectedness asks, "Does the process include those in the web of relationships affected by the conflict (victims, offenders, communities) as wall as consider the social, systemic, ecological, spiritual and personal implications?"

Particularity values particular identity. Particularity recognizes that context, culture and time are all relevant matters of justice. Particularity says that we are not all the same.  It is about respecting diversity and difference.  JustPeace does not have a single source but comes from many communities.  

Particularity asks, "Is the intervention rooted in the contextual paradigm(s)? "

Interconnectedness says that we are connected and that harms create responsibility to those affected (victims, community, family).  Particularity adds that while we are connected we are not all the same. Justice must respect both or connections and our particularity.
Personal Care-Response and Generations 

Personal Care-Response calls JustPeace to be oriented around human qualities of care rather than rules or a rights-response.  It sees each person as inherently worthy of respect. It searches for responses to harms that care for real people and relationships, especially the victims, offenders and communities. This value sees crime not against the state but against people.  

Care-Response asks, "Does the intervention help parties to see each other as human and help them toward working out of care and respect for each other?"  

Generations is a relational value with a long-term time dimension.  Generations looks both to the past and to the future to determine the best way to relate to the present. It is interested in causes of harms, both personal and structural. It is also interested in how our response to harms today affects the generations of tomorrow (causes of response). This long-term relationship lens has to do with identity, grassroots, root causes, broken pasts and shared futures.  

Generations asks, "What happened seven generations ago that is causing problems today? What will be best for the children seven generations to come?"  

Personal Care-Response is a relational orientation that calls us to care for particular people. Generations as a value, expands that orientation to care for the past and the future.

Transformation and Humility 

When transformation is a value, the goal is not just to fine-tune a basically working system but rather to seek to radically change people, systems and dreams for the future. Encouraging change toward JustPeace is to move away from life-destroying ways of living toward life-nourishing ways of living.  

Transformation asks, "Does the intervention move toward deep transformation or is it cheap peace that denies true justice?"  

Humility is about being aware of our limits.  It is about respecting others and having an appropriate level of self-doubt, not assuming that we know what others need. It lightens the spirit and creates the freedom to try, as the expectation is that we will not change everything. It values servant facilitative leadership over expert leadership.  

Humility asks, "What movements toward JustPeace could be harmed by this intervention?  Does this intervention promise too much? How do participants view the conflict and their needs?"

When transformation and humility are linked, change is sought through listening, empowerment and holistic vision. 

The values of restorative justice are strikingly different from the modern justice system but share much in common with many religious traditions, indigenous cultures and diverse fields of inquiry.

Needs-Oriented and Nonviolence 

For JustPeace to be a lived experience, it must be oriented towards meeting the needs of all parties. Self-defined needs of victims, offenders and communities must be central, not peripheral. Most conflict is rooted in unfulfilled needs. Justice is therefore about meeting needs. For needs to be important, justice processes and ends must be flexible to be needs-oriented.  

Needs-Oriented asks, "Are the needs (rather than power) of all being considered?"  

JustPeace believes needs must be secured through nonviolent means.  Nonviolence calls us to find nonviolent mechanisms for expressing and handling conflict.  It favors cooperative methods (circles, conferencing) over adversarial ones (the courts). Doing harm to offenders is not nonviolence. Neither is the offense.  Neither is the environment that created the conditions within which the offense took place. Needs-Oriented Nonviolence is concerned with all of these levels.  

Nonviolence asks, "Does this move parties toward nonviolent ways of expressing and dealing with both the roots and incidents of conflict?" 

Empowerment and Responsibility

Empowerment recognizes that participants are not recipients of JustPeace but rather resources of JustPeace. Empowerment calls us to not impose solutions from the outside but to involve meaningful participation of all affected parties. Empowerment creates space for the inclusion, participation and voice of those affected by a conflict. Injustice robs people of power. JustPeace returns power.  

When transformation is a value, the goal is not just to fine-tune a basically working system but rather to seek to radically change people, systems and dreams for the future.  

Empowerment asks, "Does the intervention strategy contribute to the ability of relatively powerless individuals or groups in a situation to participate and define the way toward JustPeace?"

Responsibility recognizes that as one gains power he or she also gains responsibility to care for others. When interconnected relationships are harmed, through conflict or crime, the responsibility increases. Responsibility calls us to change justice systems from a culture that discourages offenders from taking responsibility to one that encourages them to take responsibility.  Responsibility is about accountability to those affected by your decisions.  

Responsibility asks, "Are participants encouraged to take responsibility for past and current hurts? Are victims, offenders and communities given the opportunity to grow strong through taking responsibility for dealing with their conflicts?"  

Restorative justice is not a set of processes or techniques.  As those involved in family group conferencing in New Zealand put it, restorative justice is a principled vessel into which the practitioners must find the right people, places and questions. Underneath the many principles of restorative justice lies the web of linked values.  As we are aware of these values and find creative and culturally appropriate ways for the experience of these values, victims, offenders and communities will experience the transformation of justice.



Conciliation Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 3

Reprinted with permission from Mennonite Conciliation Service.

March 2002

Created by: james
Last modified: 2007/05/02 20:46:53.627000 US/Eastern