At some level it amazes me that the idea of involving people in the design for products, services, or programme to address the problems in their lives is considered a new or innovative idea. At another level, this is a reminder of how easy it is to assume a position of authority or superiority which allows one to dictate solutions for others. However, the human-centred approach provides opportunity for more creativity, stronger relationships and discovering the humanity of the other.
I see restorative justice as being human-centred in many ways. If taken as a philosophy of justice and not simply a programme, the paradigm allows many options for responding to crime that have potential for transforming relationships, people and communities. Including the voices of those most directly affected by crime opens everyone to possible responses that address both the underlying causes of criminal behaviour and the needs of those who have been harmed.
In my own experience as a facilitator, I’ve seen the creative potential at work. I remember the mother of a young man killed in a car wreck. The driver had been a lifelong friend of the family. In sharing their joint pain and directly addressing responsibility for the actions that caused the incident, the mother and the driver were able to build a joint understanding of the crime. She was adamant that she wanted the young man to go on in his life and be successful. In trying to find something for the young man to do for the family, he agreed to create a scrapbook using stories and pictures from the many years he was friends with their son. The conference did two things. It provided the grieving mother with a safe place to share her grief and anger over the loss of a child. It also opened doors for the driver to own his responsibility and take steps toward doing something good and of use for the family he had harmed. It was an outcome that no law or standardised process could achieve.
Much of the research I’ve seen points to higher levels of victim satisfaction with restorative justice over traditional court processes. I attribute this to the processes and concepts being human-centred. Just as the designers in the article I read were talking to the people they hoped to serve and listening to their experiences, aspirations, and needs, I as a restorative conferencing facilitator listen to deep pain, absorb some serious anger, and create space for positive conversations between people so that they can find solutions to their own problems. Every conference is an amazing experience. And, I feel, that those concepts of communication, respect, and problem-solving together have the potential to transform relationships and structures in all areas of life.