Pattern #50


We invite your participation in evolving this pattern language with us. Use the comment section at the bottom of this page to comment on its contents or to share related ideas and resources.

Pattern Card

Click to enlarge or download Pattern Card.

Restorative Justice Card - Version 1


To download the 70 pattern cards, an overview, and the complete Wise Democracy Pattern Language use the DOWNLOAD button.

Restorative Justice

The purpose of wise justice is to maintain and restore wholeness and balance in relationships and community. Punishment, and even rehabilitation, do not achieve this. So promote true healing of both crimes and systemic social injustice with honest communication among victims, offenders, and communities as well as any needed amends and cultural and systemic changes.

Related: 4 Big Empathy, 39 Multiple Perspective View, 47 Proposals Emergent, 57 Story Sharing, 64 Using Diversity and Disturbance Creatively, 68 Whole System in the Conversation, 70 Working Through Feelings

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

Usually the justice system, at least in the United States, is around 80-90% about catching criminals, punishing them, trying them, making sure they are guilty if they can, and then putting them in jail or killing them in some cases. This is not the kind of justice that a wise democracy is interested in. If you are trying to create long-term broad benefits, those broad benefits need to include the healing of damage that was done and the transformation of relationships that were torn by the damage that was done. So what we’re looking for here is renewed or newly created wholeness and balance.

So when somebody does something to somebody else, having them really hear each other’s experience is central. It doesn’t necessarily demand forgiveness. Very often forgiveness happens, but that’s not the point. The point is to fully hear each other, to have the different parties involved to be able to experience each other’s world, and to have the larger community present, too. Any harm that is done also harms the community – and the community was somehow involved in what happened. The larger system is part of the situation. People are isolated from each other or somebody was disrespected. Tremendous amounts of violent crime arise from shame, from people being disrespected or put down in various ways.  Research shows that shame underlies most violent crime.

So the larger community, the larger society, needs to see itself as a collective entity that needs healing, and that needs to take responsibility. That’s the kind of thing you’re looking for in the conversations here: to have people really hear each other and take responsibility, to become conscious parts of both what happened and what is going to happen next, whatever that may be. So the healing is a coming back into a place where we can all take our proper role in making a positive difference in what’s going on.

Sometimes punishment changes people for the better but more often punishment just solidifies or worsens existing patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior.  Somebody may have committed a minor crime and got put into a major prison. They learn from other prisoners how to defend themselves, how to fight, how to get their way when somebody else is stopping or messing with them. They may also be abused in the present situation where maybe they weren’t before and start developing patterns that are more defensive and violent than they had when they went into prison. Or in some cases they are learning violent ideologies. So the idea that punishment is simply a matter of “if you are afraid of punishment you will behave yourself” or “if you are punished you will change” – there’s a grain of truth in those ideas, but that grain is not nearly as large as we usually think. An awful lot of people end up going back in prison after they’ve been released – around 70% in the U.S.

The assumption of rehabilitation is, “since this person has certain shortcomings, we can fix them with therapy, education, training, etc.“ Depending on the nature of the rehabilitation, that approach can help, but often it is a matter of “We are trying to make you more like us. We are trying to make you fit into the sick society we have created.” To that extent rehabilitation is very limited.

So the true healing from harmful acts involves the person who did the fraud or the murder talking to the people who they hurt, and the people they hurt are telling them, “This is what happened in my life because of what you did.” And the criminal is saying, “This is how I came to do this … and I really don’t like the fact that I created these effects on you and I am very sorry I did it.” Or if they are not sorry, they stay clammed up and little healing happens. The more honest and openhearted the communications can be, the more healing can happen. But you want to include at least the victim(s) and the offender(s). If you can involve people from the community, all the better.

Usually in the United States, the state steps in. So if there was a murder, and the family of the murdered person has been hurt by that – as well, of course, as the person who was murdered – the state is there as the accuser. “You have violated the laws and we, the state, will judge you.” The people who were impacted by the crime are set aside. They may sometimes be able to say something during the trial, but they are basically set aside from the full process that is going on to handle the crime.

So this is a different idea that what really needs to happen is a meeting of minds and hearts and souls between victim, offender and community. (Very often there’s no victim, as when somebody is put in jail for having an ounce of pot.) If someone, an offender, has done a damaging act, then we ask what kind of amends can be offered; what can be done to make up for that fact. “I harmed you, and now I am going to help you. I am going to do something. Although it may or may not be something that actually rises to the occasion and balances out what I did, I’m trying to put something on the other part of the scale of balance and justice to make up for what I did.”

In some cases it is a whole society that needs to do that, as in cases of crimes against humanity, crimes of genocide – for example, American society’s crimes of slavery and murder of Native American indigenous tribal peoples. That’s true for lots of places around the world, but I am most familiar with the American story.

This often involves a sense that there needs to be some kind of amends. There is a demand for reparations from black communities for slavery. It is so important to get it that the overwhelming number of African-Americans in the U.S. have ancestors who were forcibly brought to the United States to work as slaves, usually for white people. That past has left all kinds of residues in both black people and in white people, and in the larger society which has continued to practice racist actions and pursue racist policies that harm or disadvantage black people. So the idea is that America could try to make up for that in some way. There needs to be an active exploration of what ways would make sense to provide support and positive help for people who have as a class been harmed and held back. And in the process of asking what would make sense in this regard, a lot of both distant and recent history and current conditions and dynamics would be raised up for learning and action by the whole society.

Having a society take responsibility for systemic injustice is quite amazing. That happened in Germany. Although it took years and was very controversial in both Germany and Israel, Germany took major responsibility for the Holocaust, including millions of dollars of reparations to Israel. There are a lot of German officials and ordinary people who did take responsibility, even while there are many Germans who haven’t. But it matters tremendously when a whole society decides, “This is important to attend to. This is important to apologize for. This is important to make amends for.” That has a very powerful healing influence.

Video Introduction (13 min)

Examples and Resources

Restorative Justice – There is a whole movement that promotes several variations of restorative justice. It basically follows this kind of logic that we are trying to restore health and wholesomeness to our communities and to the harmed relationships.

Nonviolent Communication is a healing process for conflict and a true hearing of what’s going on for the person or people who have been in conflict or been hurt.

Truth and reconciliation commissions – I think this was originally done in South Africa to look at the violations of human rights that occurred under Apartheid. There are other people who have been doing variations of it since then. Truth and reconciliation commissions represent an effort by a whole society to surface larger systemic violence that has happened and to take responsibility for it and have people who have committed crimes against humanity to be able to speak about what they did with less punishment because they are coming out and coming clean in terms of actually claiming responsibility and confronting people who have been affected by what they did.

Affirmative Action is an American approach to help marginalized people who have been held back by systemic forces, giving them some favorable opportunities for education or for certain jobs. Schools may have requirements or certain percentages of women or black people to get into the school. Some people who are “less qualified” by usual standards make it in because of their race or gender and because of the fact that they were disadvantaged earlier for that reason. That is protested by people who are in the majority culture – e.g., white men – who feel they are being biased against. But they didn’t speak up when they were benefitting from the privilege of being in the majority. So there’s a sense that the Affirmative Action is trying to level the playing field somewhat. It is like having handicaps when you have a race, something to level the playing field somehow.

Reparations and apologies from national leaders – I think Australia’s Prime Minister recently offered a major apology for the white’s treatment of indigenous people in Australia, which had a profoundly positive effect.

These are all efforts to heal the larger community rather than just punish crimes or deny social injustice.