What is Restorative Justice?

The goal of Restorative Justice, or Circle Justice as it is referred to in the novel, is to get offenders to take responsibility for their actions, to understand the what they have done, to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves and avoid further problems. Restorative Justice also gives the victim and community a chance to be part of the justice process and to work together to decide on a consequence that has direct links to the problem in the first place.

Circle justice is a Native American form of justice originating in Canada that tries to avoid simple punishments i.e. you yelled and ruined a teachers lesson so go to the principal! Restorative Justice might be something along the lines of you help me create a new lesson and share it with the class to see the work it takes to make a new lesson.

The offender must take accountability for the harm they caused. The victim must accept and agree to circle justice, and together, with the community, they come up with a plan.

And yes! It has been used in Canadian communities as an alternative to the formal justice system. The system was adapted and used in the 1980s to build closer ties with the First Nations peoples of the Yukon.

Comparing our traditional justice goals with restorative justice

Circle Justice and the novel

“With traditional justice, punishment is used as the main tool to try and deter future crimes.  But in Touching Spirit Bear. Cole’s parole officer explains Circle Justice to Cole this way.  “If you kill my cat, normally the police fine you and that’s it.  We still hate each other, I still feel bad about my cat, and you’re angry because you have to pay a fine.  In Circle Justice, you sign a healing contract.  You might agree to help me pick out a new kitten and care for it as part of the sentencing.  By doing something for me and for another cat, you help make things right again.”

He goes on to explain to Cole that he shouldn’t do this to avoid jail but for the sake of healing.  Cole realizes that he is also a victim.  It is the bad from his past that would make him want to kill a poor small animal. The victim’s lawyer might take Cole to a veterinarian to watch operations for a day to see how hard some people work to save a life that he so easily took.  The judge might even take Cole to his personal workshop to let him help build bird houses to return to the animal kingdom what he so recklessly destroyed.  Always the end goal is to change hearts and have both sides forgive each other and become neighbors again.”

A Few Basic Rules

  • The offender must agree to participate in circle justice.
  • The victim must be comfortable to participate in circle justice.
  • Everyone sits in a circle to see everyone without having to lean forward.
  • There are no special powers or privileges for anyone in the circle.
  • There are no interruptions while a person is speaking.
  • There is a talking piece which moves around the circle – you can only speak when you have the talking piece.
  • In the circle decisions are made on the basis of consensus between victim, offender, and community.

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