This idea of “people, not projects” is one restorative justice embraces. In general, the justice system impacts people as passive actors in the process. The state punishes offenders. Victims play a role of witness but rarely have the opportunity to ask their questions or to say all the things they need to say. While there are a lot of very important aspects of the justice system – due process and respect for human rights – the concentration on punishment does tend to treat people as projects or objects. In the words of the Social Discipline Window developed by the International Institute for Restorative Practices, it “does to or for” people instead of “with people.”

Restorative justice, on the other hand, works with people to allow them to take active responsibility for their behavior and for meeting their needs.  So, the values that inform restorative practices include: 

  • Respect – seeing a person as valuable and worthy simply because he or she is a human being.
  • Inclusion – recognizing that those who are affected by or participants in a situation should play an active part in finding solutions. 
  • Empowerment – helping people develop the skills and strengths they need to participate in the decision making. 

While the list of values informing restorative practice includes many others, I find these to be a firm foundation to build on. When we work with respect, inclusion, and empowerment as a grid to evaluate our actions and programs even informal interactions will serve restorative purposes and help build positive relationships. 

As a facilitator, I have to remind myself of these values quite often. Even with years of experience, I often want to make decisions for people. I can still be tempted to tell the individuals with whom I’m working what is best for them. But by remembering the basics of respect, encounter and empowerment, I can trust the process. This always leads to a much better result than my decisions would. It also allows me to interact with the participants as people and not problems to be solved.