Restorative Justice (RJ) seeks to cultivate both peacemaking and healing by facilitating meaningful dialogue. Practiced through conversation circles, whose norms include “listen with respect” and “speak from the heart,” RJ provides contexts for sharing feelings and perspectives related to community issues and conflicts. Individuals directly engaged in altercations, as well as bystanders and other community members, gather to discuss inciting incidents, understandings, preferences, past experiences, ideas, and advice.

According to one Circles participant, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, RJ works. He and a peer had a falling out this past fall — he had criticized the peer and then they began fighting. Both were invited to a RJ circle to work it out. The circle, populated by fellow students and facilitated by a trained RJ counselor, gave the two young men a space to air their grievances and, importantly, get to know each other. In Aceves’s opinion, this was critical. Now the former combatants are good friends, hanging out together practically every weekend.

While this rosy outcome isn’t typical, RJ increases the likelihood of such a relational development. Compared to traditional responses, like turning a blind eye, assigning short-term mediation, or sentencing wrong-doers with detention, suspension, or expulsion, RJ’s odds of building interpersonal bridges is infinitely superior.

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