When this occurred, I was conducting a restorative justice pilot project. Restorative justice focuses on healing, compared to the criminal justice system’s main focus on retribution.
In our project, more than 100 youths arrested for assaults and other offenses were diverted into restorative conferences instead of the justice system.
Youths who admitted wrongdoing met with the person they hurt. The victims and juveniles brought supporters, usually family members, with them to the conferences. Other affected community members, including school representatives when the incidents happened at schools, also participated. A facilitator guided the group’s discussion about how people were affected by the wrongdoing and what might help repair the harm.
Participating in the conference was remarkable. While I was a firm supporter of restorative opportunities for youths and adults involved in wrongdoing, participating in one solidified my belief. Our conference included the boy who hit my son, his father, my son, my husband and the principal of the elementary school both boys previously attended (the intermediate school they attended could not accommodate the conference).
Meeting together not only prevented future conflicts between the boys but also helped build friendship between our families. Before the conference, each of our families had made incorrect assumptions about the other. Sitting together in the circle, we learned that we were all doing the best we could and that we all had good intentions. It made us more empathic and compassionate toward each other.