Howard Zehr (2003)

Howard Zehr’s writing and speaking have fired the imaginations of people around the world. Many point to him as the person who motivated them to begin restorative programs in their countries.  His book, Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice, is a foundational work in restorative justice. It is probably referenced as much as any other single book in the growing literature on restorative justice.

Howard directed the first victim-offender reconciliation program in the U.S. in the 1970s. As he spoke with victims and offenders involved in that program, he discovered that they were far more satisfied that justice had been done in their meetings than were those whose matters were handled in traditional court processes. As he considered why this might be, he suggested that the more cooperative, problem-solving approach used by the victim-offender reconciliation program demonstrated a different kind of justice from that seen in courts, one that he called restorative justice.  This discovery is typical of Howard; one of his remarkable traits is that he is a reflective advocate of restorative justice.

Howard is not an uncritical promoter. He has consistently warned that restorative justice programs can easily lose their distinctiveness. Two keys to a genuinely restorative approach, according to Zehr, are the active participation of the community and the central place that the crime victim must be given. He continues to warn restorative advocates not to lose sight of those essentials in the context of governmentally-driven, offender-focused contemporary criminal justice systems.

Howard is Co-Director of the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.