At the core of our community engagement for peace and equality is our deep commitment to restorative justice. On this page of our website, we explain what movement organizing, community education, and community healing for restorative justice means to us.
Succinctly, restorative justice refers to healing practices that bring people within communities into conversation, amends, reconciliation, and agreement in the wake of mistakes and offenses to foster healthy, safe, ongoing accountability instead of punishing people vengefully to make them suffer.
At the center of our vision for restorative justice is Conflict Resolution Education and Services, which we explain momentarily on this web-page.
Our values and practices for restorative justice root in the teachings and wisdom of several figures who were born in or worked in Baltimore, Maryland, including Ruth Revels (1936-2016), a Lumbee Nation Elder; Lee Donald Stern (1915-1992), a Quaker leader in the Alternatives to Violence Project; and Pauli Murray (1910-1985), a pioneering peace, civil rights, and gender equity activist.
Our understanding of restorative justice does not advocate for the elimination of courts, legal systems, forensics, criminology, criminal justice, and criminal investigations. Rather, as we explain later on this page, we advocate for changing systems by working with these fields to implement public health and community health-centered Conflict Resolution Education and Services.
We do advocate for the abolishment of carceral institutions (jails and prisons) as they are currently devised as well as rampant police brutality, police discrimination, and police corruption, and their replacement with safe, humane, de-escalated, community and public health-centered institutions and practices.
Four Forms of Conflict Resolution Education and Services
In our six programs, we practice the following four forms of Conflict Resolution Education and Services:
(1) Mediations: Bringing all parties together within a conflict, dispute, or offense to do the following:
(2) Crisis Interventions: When community members are in crisis involving direct, imminent threats to their safety or well-being (or perceived threats) and they reach out to us for help, we aid them with one-on-one or group mediations and negotiations to do the following:
Without exaggeration, especially in our Youth Peacemaker program for 14-18 year-olds, individuals or groups call us in crisis or seeming crisis several times a week.
For example, they will call in the middle of the night while on the street looking for help getting to safe a location; they will call at a party where a violent incident has broken out seeking help getting out of the situation; they will call in the middle of an imminent violent altercation on the street looking for guidance; they will call after or during arguments within a family household; they will behave in a pronounced verbally or physically violent manner in the after-school program that calls for an on-the-spot crisis intervention with or without their parent; or they will call before, during, or after problematic contact or engagement with law enforcement or other public agencies.
Our crisis intervention services require considerable time and investment: Well-trained staff must be on call throughout the week to provide mediations involving complex behavioral health management and guidance.
(3) Amnesty Days: “Amnesty Day” is a regularly occurring community health program module in which participants sit in a talk circle/healing circle and
On the 2nd Thursday of every month from 4:30-6 pm, this program module is open to the public. On the other Thursdays each month, this program module is confidential and closed to the public given the sensitivity of the offenses shared (and the need for participants to feel that they will not be harmed or arrested for openly apologizing, asking for forgiveness, or making amends).
(4) Truth and Reconciliations: This program module is a series of deeper, longer, more intensive, and immersive mediations and Amnesty Days that seek to find permanent, lasting accountability for a group-oriented conflict, offense, or dispute (especially ones from the past that still resonant today) involving multiple individuals or parties of people. Community members form an official grassroots commission for advanced, extended mediation with deadlined reconciliation in mind. We are one of the few organizations in the world to deploy this form of Conflict Resolution specifically for local communities and families within cities rather than for governments or nation-states. Over the last six years, we have carried out four of these series (each lasting two years) for families with generational disputes, and groups of people impacted by the drug trade.
Managing, Transforming, and Resolving Conflicts
We differentiate between managing conflicts (de-escalating feelings about differences and regulating our responses and behavior), transforming conflicts (the hard work of making amends and reintegrating into communities); and resolving conflicts (hoped-for endpoints involving fully realized, longterm problem-solving, reparations, agreements, and making amends.)
We value holistic, integrated approaches that implement a variety of ways to mediate and negotiate a range of conflicts, disputes and offenses.
Our approaches are rooted in the nonviolent restorative methods of the early to late 20th century Black American Civil Rights movement and in Indigenous Native American methods (especially those taught by Ruth Locklear Revels (1936-2016) of the Lumbee Nation).
Here are a few preventative and interventional elements of our approaches:
A Lab for Conflict Studies
Our work is an ongoing laboratory in conflict studies.
Conflict can be constructive and generative, teaching us how to value differences and work through challenges. Not all conflict is negative. We guide community members to differentiate between forms of pain, suffering, conflict, and offense so that community members understand the distinctiveness of experiences like disagreement, hurt, abuse, discrimination, and violence.
Many conflicts arise from disagreements in which the parties can work out arrangements to "agree to disagree" while "circling up" to face each other, and work out agreements that give all parties redress; admit misunderstanding, confusion, and error; and repair relationships.
Other conflicts require intensive mediation, amnesty, and rehabilitation.
We encourage community members to enter into and respect the need for factual investigations with thorough research and detection that pinpoint the roots and branches of conflicts.
Have you ever noticed that victims and survivors often have the least input in the management of offenses in our criminal justice system? Police, prosecutors, attorneys, and judges ask victims and survivors to make statements and give testimony. But, these contributions rarely come from a place of power in deciding the course and the outcome of the accountability. The framing of victims' and survivors' contributions is often overtly or covertly about what kind of retribution prosecutors, police, attorneys, and judges adjudicate.
Restorative justice is different in that it centers and empowers victims and survivors within their communities. They are empowered to co-manage the accountability process. If safety permits, they—along with other members of affected communities—are called to work together with so-called offenders to manage, transform, and/or resolve conflicts, and work towards reparation and/or reconciliation.
Moreover, restorative justice goes further: it is about preventing, understanding, and intervening into experiences of conflict, harm, hurt, offense, and suffering.
Restorative justice is the work of peacemaking. For us, restorative justice is synonymous with transformative justice and it is centered in Conflict Resolution Education and Services.
We aim to transform, manage, repair, resolve, and/or restore relations within communities and families without perpetuating pain and anguish. We aim to prevent harm and offense and intervene when these mistakes occur.
Restorative justice benefits everyone. Since the 1970s, careful social scientific evidence proves restorative justice's effectiveness.
To begin to understand restorative justice's benefits and effectiveness, we recommend the explanation provided by Baltimore City's own Annie E. Casey Foundation.
We also recommend the statement from the NAACP's Resolution on restoratve justice, and empirical studies on restorative justice's effectiveness.
To begin to understand the evidence of restorative justice's benefits, examine Paul McCold's formative 1997 investigation entitled Restorative Justice: An Annotated Bibliography, and also read here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Recently, key state legislatures passed laws that forbid the use of statements made during restorative justice practices against people by police, prosecutors, and courts. These advancements are laudable, and we believe strongly that the United States must move resolutely towards widespread, immersive restorative justice practices within communities.
Punishment harms people by vengefully making them suffer and/or feel mental and physical pain for actual or perceived mistakes.
We are fundamentally against the perpetuation of pain and suffering. We deplore vengeance and retribution.
Instead of punishment, suffering, vengeance, and retribution, we value restorative justice that elevates humane engagement, humanitarian guidance, intensive medical and mental health treatment, harmlessness, and reasonable protection from harm at all times.
Protection and self-defense from harm (especially when imminent danger is close at hand) is critically important. But even here, defensive force and warranted extraction (whether physical or institutional) must be limited, reasonable, and humane.
It is possible for self-defense to achieve these hallmarks even in the presence of crisis, grave danger, harm, and offense.
De-escalation techniques integrated with self-defense and extraction training bear this out.
Rather than punishment, we foster accountability.
Accountability is when someone who makes or causes mistakes, offense, or harm works within communities to do the following:
In the communities that we serve—and across the world—there are predators who refuse accountability, are persistently defiant, repeatedly recidivist, and continually dangerous to themselves and/or others.
For these predators, mandated, un-negotiable longterm, humane, medical and mental health treatment and confinement away from affected communities that fosters immersive healing is the best form of accountability and restorative justice.
Even here, we believe that medical and psychiatric healing in exile must replace violent, inhumane policing and incarcerating.
There is no such thing as the "perfect" victim, survivor, or "offender." Offenses are rarely only two-sided.
Violence often occurs in relationships where parties may have a rapport or care for one another.
We practice sophisticated holistic approaches to peacemaking and justice that rethink civic, court-centered, carceral, and policing-centered models for justice.
Our abolitionist vision is not focused on individual people who hold great power and privilege like, for example, police officers and politicians, and we fully acknowledge that some of these individuals do good.
Rather, our abolitionist vision to end pain and suffering is about radical systemic change.
We work towards the wholesale reimagining and redesign of structures, systems, organizations, institutions, and approaches for offense, conflict, and rehabilitation within human societies.
In this reimagining and redesigning, we aim for societal systems that govern peacemaking to be grassroots public health and community health systems.
"Grassroots" means centering, coming from, created for, and led by non-elite, non-aristocratic, everyday people within communities.
Policing intervenes after the fact of alleged harm and it often chiefly serves the interests of elites, aristocrats, corporations, and politicians.
Instead of policing and incarceration in their currently conceived forms, we advocate for these systems to be replaced with grassroots public health and community health systems led by deeply trained community members.
Again, we speak of systems, not individuals. When they re-orient their vocations, become public health practitioners, make reparations, and conceive of themselves as non-elites, then individuals who previously upheld problematic systems can work with others to implement just, equitable, humane, healing-centered restorative justice systems.
Changing systems means de-escalating.
Escalating is the following:
De-escalating mitigates these problems.
In addition to our own approaches for de-escalation rooted in mindfulness, we highly value Brendan King's approach found here and here.
Right now there are over 30 different wars raging across the planet typified by heinous atrocities, killings, rapes, land thefts, and human rights abuses. These wars are sanctioned by many governments who trade and supply draconian weapons that continue vicious cycles of violence. States with the most power continue colonial and imperial violence. This geopolitical violence is the gravest threat to human life and well-being, and the health of other species and our global environments. We urge readers of this web-page to remember the context of warmongering when we speak about major crime because crime within our neighborhoods is dwarfed by war crimes.
Even still, it is important to discuss how major neighborhood crimes are mitigated by restorative justice. Because the communities within which we work contain a minority of individuals and groups involved in deeply anti-social, frequently violent, predatory offenses like drug dealing, extortion, murder, maiming, rape, child abuse, fraud, theft, robbery, burglary, and larceny, we are often asked if—and challenged to explain how—restorative justice can possibly intervene and prevent these major offenses.
The United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime has released compelling and effective guidelines and principles that show definitively how restorative justice can and should be applied in cases of major crime, including the integration of restorative justice with traditional court and law enforcement processes.
Accountability often demands that some perpetrators of major crime be separated from society to ensure the safety of themselves and others. If extraction, separation, exile, and/or confinement is agreed upon by survivors and victims as well as affected communities, then we strongly advocate that the places that house offenders be extremely humane, humanitarian, and holistic (uplifting the mental, physical, and spiritual). These health facilities must emphasize intensive treatment (including medication upon diagnosis to treat psychiatric disorders), counseling, training in peacemaking, training in skilled trades that ensure employment upon release, and participation in remedies to promote pro-social behavior like the cultivation of fruits and vegetables and the care for non-human animals and species (with adequate pay so that the work is not slavery-through-imprisonment).
We work with survivors and victims every day. There is a profound consensus among them regarding length of confinement. Community members say over and over again that people who remain a severe danger to others or themselves should remain in humane in-patient treatment and, if need be, medical confinement, to protect communities. Regular mediation and other restorative justice measures helps to ascertain the extent of danger and provide opportunities for healing and re-entry.
We encourage accountability by thinking-through and investigating the root causes of a conflict in a community and in the lives of individuals, and then creating responses (or treatment plans) that solve, resolve, manage, transform, or address the problems that prompted problematic behavior.
This requires rethinking how we conceive of natural consequences, logical consequences, and imposed consequences.
We try to create learning environments where harmful actions are not tacitly enabled by refusing to identify them and speak openly about harm.
We "circle up" and guide harmful actors, victims, survivors--the whole community--towards apology, repair, restoration, making amends, and even (when it feels just for victims and survivors) forgiveness.
Understanding and valuing the natural consequences of harmful actions and working not to make the same adverse mistakes repeatedly is part of fostering accountability.
So too is seriously devising procedures and agreements to make amends and uphold safety and harmlessness.
Being non-punishing also means that we maintain compassion as we encourage accountability by regulating our emotional responses and de-escalating when harm, crises, conflicts, and problems occur.
Our current systems for incarceration are deeply anti-restorative and inhumane. We advocate for these systems full replacement.
The best response to persistently violent, oppositional, defiant, and dangerous people is intensive in-patient medical treatment in extremely humane facilities that are truly rehabilitative.
The manner in which we engage with community members typifies our commitment to restorative justice. The following elements explain this engagement.
Restorative justice is supportive, maintaining an unfailingly kind, compassionate, yet vigilant and watchful demeanor in our engagement with communities.
We try not to allow anything that someone does to provoke us towards toxic engagement.
No Judging, Blaming or Shaming
We engage in a nonjudgmental manner that strictly avoids blaming and shaming in overt or covert ways.
Clear and Non-Confusing
We value open, clear, plainspoken, straightforward, and forthright communication that avoids creating confusion. If questions are asked, we answer them directly and clearly and we encourage this kind of straightforward, transparent engagement as a cornerstone of our community counseling.
When engaging with adults, we offer advice, encouragement, and service in non-directive ways. In other words, unless they are receiving stipends and working as bona fide employees (which does involve following directions), rather than only telling people what to do, we offer best practices, wise options, and beneficial alternatives, and then encourage and empower community members to select the path that is best for them.
When engaging with children, we acknowledge that learning to follow directions is part of children's necessary developmental processes that are central to elevating safety and care in their lives. At the same time, we try to create learning spaces that uplift youth voice by encouraging best practices, wise options, and beneficial alternatives that empower youth to select the path that is best for them.
Do No Harm
We do not shrink from our responsibility to speak up when we feel community members may be harming themselves or others.
We maintain our credibility by not joining in or encouraging harmful activities of any kind, including through subtle endorsement, with community members so that we do not send mixed messages and work at cross purposes.
Personal versus Private
We talk-through the complexity of personal versus private notions in our work with community members. Everything is personal because we feel and sense things deeply within ourselves, and we recognize that we must demonstrate care and friendliness in our engagement. At the same time, we talk with community members about the matters that are private in their lives and in our lives, and the need to keep many matters private, uphold consent, and maintain boundaries. We do not try to force community members to reveal information that they deem private unless they wish to share. Talking through this complexity is one of the cornerstones of how we build trust in our engagement.
We perform ongoing assessment to learn the systemic barriers in housing, healthcare, food, and transportation that may be influencing community members' wellness.
No Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Oftentimes, when we work with people who are undergoing challenges, we may become subconsciously annoyed with them and this negativity may show up covertly in our engagement. We are careful to become conscious of our subconscious feeling and to avoid passive-aggressive behavior in our engagement. Click here and click here for overviews of passive-aggressive behavior.
We strictly avoid gaslighting (whether subtle or pronounced) and all forms of emotional manipulation. We never implicitly or explicitly make someone question their sanity or emotional stability. We encourage admitting error clearly and we do not create situations where blaming makes someone a guilty party. We engage based on factual and actual problems, not imagined and manipulated matters. Click here and click here for overviews of gaslighting behavior.
Monitoring and Managing Mood
We monitor the tone of our voices, the positioning of our bodies, and the attitude and expression of our faces so that we always counsel in supportive, encouraging ways.
We never, ever discriminate and move from bias, be it explicit or implicit. Click here for our nondiscrimination policy.
Welcoming, Timely, and Responsive
We make community members feel welcome in a session. We end on time (if there is a set time for engagement), and we schedule and perform timely follow-ups and check-ins.
In learning situations, we never give adults or children anything that is or could be perceived as weapons. For adults, we encourage the proper safe storage, regulation, and maintenance of arms and weapons within people's constitutional rights in the United States. If someone is ill or prone to violence, and the topic of weapons arises, we encourage them to disarm for their own and others' protection and safety.
We encourage protecting oneself with martial physical response only in situations of imminent violence.
Fighting and Play-Fighting
We encourage a zero-tolerance on verbal and physical fighting, including play-fighting (in the case of children) because play-fighting (instead of playing safely and lovingly) gets confusing and dangerous.
Four Principles of Universal Respect & Care
We live in societies in which there is often little understanding or valuing of the ways that mistakes, trials, and errors can be essential to growing and learning for children and adults. We often do not have restorative, non-judging, and non-blaming values and practices to guide us when mistakes occur.
That is why, in 1990, Miss tree turtle, our Co-Director at Wisdom Projects, developed a mantra, which is a four-point corollary that aims to ground our sense of humanity as we respect and care for each other: