Scaling Restorative Practice
How might we ensure that survivors of crime and those most impacted by the criminal justice system get emotional and spiritual healing?
Cincinnati, Ohio is home to the Reds, the Bengals, Procter & Gamble, Kroger, world class medical care, several universities, an alarming rate of childhood poverty, opioid addiction, a preschool to prison pipeline, and a long history of racialized policing disparities. Community members have a long history of organizing for public policy reform through electoral engagement and mobilization, and anchor institutions have a long history of developing well-intentioned interventions from the top down to disrupt social inequities. Likewise, the charity and social service sector provide necessary frontline resources.
Despite resources, survivors of crime consistently said that they do not get the healing or safety they needed from the criminal justice system. Returning citizens were doubly impacted as they had often experienced violence and crime before their incarceration. The galvanizing issue became crystallized through a series of events: the shooting of Samuel DuBose, the Cameo nightclub shooting, and the increasingly lack of public trust, especially in the criminal justice system, as opioid addiction raged and the case against Officer Ray Tensing was dismissed.
We began by focusing on the individuals most impacted: survivors of crime and returning citizens. Our efforts and research brought together survivors of crime, returning citizens, community leaders, and public sector leaders in philanthropy, public health, criminal justice, higher education, and faith to determine a course of action.
Listening very carefully, we found that survivors of crime wanted to the opportunity to heal through a process that would bring them together with the offender. Likewise, returning citizens shared that they wish they had been able to participate in a process to make amends. We used a restorative process framework, a way of healing and resolving conflict drawn from indigenous practice. More importantly, survivors of crime and returning citizens were equipped to facilitate this process themselves for future use in their neighborhoods and homes to deescalate anger, to identify shame and grief, and to regulate functioning.
The work included:
- Developing a spiritually-rooted research action method rooted in popular education and consistent with the stated aims to center survivors of crime and returning citizens
- Gathering and vetting ideas with the individuals and families most affected
- Ongoing consultation with political and public leaders for visible support
From a social healing perspective, we
- Developed a restorative practice training with stakeholders and training over 30 survivors and former offenders
- Formed a multiracial, multi-faith, multi-partnered organizational coalition to lift the profile of restorative practice in the public square
- Engaged the community through public events of trauma healing using a spiritually-rooted circle process
Learnings and Futuring
The centering of survivors of crime and returning citizens was central to the development of a project which was oriented toward justice and healing. Mental health interventions, which are too often disconnected from the most relevant circumstances with stigma attached, were not designed for them. Rather, the turn to restorative practice and their training in restorative practice made them peers in the process, sharing power by developing relationships of trust.
Most importantly, healing moments came most powerfully when survivors were able to tell their stories and public leaders, who had been blind to harm, were asked to hear and honor the impact of historic and systemic injustice with compassion and concrete action steps for structural change.