I’ve been involved with restorative practices for more than 25 years. Circle work was part of my upbringing. when I came out as a lesbian at age 18, I was involved with circle work in women’s community. I learned about restorative justice work and began to study these practices. I received my Master’s Degree in Restorative Practices in 2007 and have added to my studies the work of Kay Praniss and Carolyn Boyes-Watson in peace circles and Parker Palmer’s Circles of Trust. I continue to engage with IIRP’s alumni program and recently completed their train the trainers program.

“Restorative practices” is a larger umbrella for different types of restorative responses. These practices are focused on, and center, relationships. They range from informal conversation that use affirmative statements or questions, to formal conferencing circles.

Restorative Practices, though wonderful and widely useful, don’t work for everything all the time. Circles might help, but the container has to create a sense of safety and place for people to be vulnerable. If one or both or the parties have no desire to be in relationship or to repair the relationship, the process will likely not work. If there is a sense of punitive intent or a threat of punishment, the process may work, but outcomes may not be effective in the long run. If there is a drive toward a specific outcome, the process likely get bound up and wont work well. If the party who caused the harm does not take even a small amount of responsibility, a formal conference will likely be ineffective and can cause more harm.

A few examples are:

  • Community building circles are any formalized circles that invite people to get to know each other better, these are most effective when they are on-going, to allow people to deepen their knowledge of one another.
  • Restorative Circles or more formal conferences are often used for repairing harm as well as repairing the relationships.
  • Family Group Decision Making is often used in cases when children and families are involved, centering the extended family in making choices for a child in need most often with a case worker providing support.
  • There other kinds of practices, but those above are the most commonly used in the United States.