Newsletter - Fall 2014

Community Members Learn the Power of the Peacemaking Circle

 

The Restorative Justice Institute of Mainerecently hosted a three-day training with Kay Pranis, an international leader in Restorative Justice and Peacemaking Circles, at the United Universalist Church of Brunswick. “When we cause harm to one another we threaten both meaning and belonging for ourselves and for those we hurt. Restorative justice provides a way forward for healing the disruption to our sense of meaning and belonging. The circle process in particular is a profound process of discovering meaning and of experiencing belonging,” noted Pranis. 

 

25 practitioners and community members from across Maine participated in the training, learning about the applications and key elements of a successful circle and how to best organize a circle in the justice system, workplace, school, or in a family.   When asked about the impact of the training, Chuck Saufler, a Brunswick-based school mediator said “I’m more convinced than ever that what makes an interaction restorative is HOW we say or do, what we say or do, WITH each other. Restorative communication is humanistic and includes our conveying positive intention with humility, caring, support, and forgiveness. Circles are proactive in seeking to build or repair relationship and community with an overall sense of fairness and justice, exist along a continuum, and one size/type does not fit all.”

 

Susan Jackson, a retired educator in the midcoast region, is looking forward to incorporating the circle process into her current restorative conferencing practice.  “I left the three days with a sense of hope that there is a way to a more peaceful world.”  

 

To receive information about future trainings and developing restorative practitioner support networks, email Ryun at  randerson@rjimaine.org.

 

September Board Member Highlight: T. Richard Snyder

What led you to the Restorative Justice Institute of Maine?
The culture of our nation is punitive. My almost twenty years of work with men at Sing Sing was a shocking revelation of the futility of punishment–its inability to heal victims or offenders. Increasingly, I realized that punishment was not limited to prisons.  It is the primary way for dealing with conflicts and wrongdoing in schools, the justice system, workplaces and families. The costs of this punitive approach are enormous:  victims needs are unmet, offenders are seldom rehabilitated, recidivism is epidemic, school suspensions and expulsions become pipelines to jail and prison, a disproportionate number of people of color are arrested, convicted and incarcerated, and there is no healing for the wounds to individuals, families and the community.  In addition we are breaking the bank.

 

This realization led me to search for alternatives and I received a research grant to explore the ways in which South Africa, Sweden and experiments in the United States might offer some clues.  It was during this time that I discovered the power of Restorative Justice.  

 

When we moved to Maine I helped found the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast. Over time it became clear that the successes being achieved as well as the groundswell of local community support indicated that there was both the need for and possibility of spreading the philosophy and practices of Restorative Justice throughout the state, stimulating a number of us to start theRestorative Justice Institute of Maine (RJIM). 

 

We have come to the conclusion that the culture and systems of Maine must change, In addition to offering services, restorative practices need to be adopted by and embedded within the organizations and systems themselves. 

 

To fulfill its goal RJIM will work to build the capacity for a wide range of restorative practices by partnering with law enforcement, judiciary, corrections, schools, non-profits, workplaces, local communities, congregations and others. In addition, the Institute is developing quality standards of practice, provides a network and training for those working in restorative justice, conducts research on best practices and engages in advocacy and public education. 

 

What does a Restorative State of Maine look like?
The culture of punishment will be replaced by a culture of restoration and healing.

From pre-school on, schools will eliminate detention, suspension and expulsion,  deal with conflicts and disciplinary matters as learning opportunities that give voice to everyone involved, hold children accountable, and seek healing for all. 

 

The adult and juvenile justice systems will utilize restorative practices as the first response to crime, offering victim-offender dialogues, conferences, peacemaking circles, family group conferences, etc. Victims’ voices will be heard and their needs addressed as fully as possible. Offenders will be held accountable and encouraged to make restitution to the extent possible. The community will be an essential partner with law enforcement, prosecution, the courts and schools in bringing about justice. 

 

Incarceration will be dramatically reduced but not eliminated. Rehabilitation will be the goal. Greater resources to deal with mental health issues and substance abuse will be available outside the jail/prison and in those cases in which the convicted person is a threat to others or self, such help will be provided within the jail/prison. Assistance will be provided for all persons released from incarceration to further their rehabilitation.  

 

Workplaces, congregations and other organizations will also incorporate restorative practices to deal with conflicts, unjust power dynamics and low-level offenses. 

 

What can Mainers do to get involved in the Restorative Movement?
First, get acquainted with the basics of restorative justice.  Read Howard Zehr’s Little Book of Restorative Justice (it really is little). Talk to others who are fed up with the ineffectiveness, inhumanity and costliness of our punitive approaches.  Find out how victims of crime or bullying or stereotyping or racism feel and ask what can be done to begin to address their needs. Join your local school board and advocate for restorative practices as the norm for the school.  Encourage your legislators to introduce RJ as the primary way to address crime.  Start a study/discussion group in your congregation or local library. Ask RJIM to send someone to talk to a community gathering.  And begin where you are--use restorative practices in your dealings with others.

The Restorative Justice Institute of Maine Launches Just Conversations, a series of events around the state

 

We rarely think about justice until someone we know becomes involved in the justice system.  Our tendency is to think of a justice system comprised of police officers, lawyers and prosecutors, courthouses, jails and prisons.  But justice impacts each of us:  When we are harmed – whether through a criminal act or an act of wrongdoing that does not rise to the level of criminality - relationships are weakened or broken.  People who commit acts of wrongdoing are punished – in courts, schools and work places.  Alienation often results, followed by separation from the community. 

 

 We believe restorative justice practices have not realized their full potential because we have not made justice real to people beyond those who have been affected by the criminal justice system. We cannot expect to meet our mission of promoting widespread cultural and systemic shift in how Mainers approach wrongdoing unless we encourage understanding of its current impact.

 

Just Conversations is a series of events to advance the use of restorative practices that heal, restore and transform individuals and  communities.

 

In September, Kay Pranis launched our first Just Conversations in Brunswick to a packed room at Frontier Café.  In 2015, we will host Just Conversations in Lewiston, Augusta, Portland and Bangor.  Stay tuned for more details.

 

Community Partner Spotlight – Maine Inside Out

The Restorative Justice Institute of Maine is excited to work with Maine Inside Out.  Founded in 2007 by three Maine women with diverse backgrounds in theater, counseling, social work, and creative writing, MIO collaborates with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to create and share original theater, inside and outside correctional facilities. Maine Inside Out has facilitated programs at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, the former Women's Reentry Center in Bangor, Learning Works in Portland, and Portland High School. They currently provide ongoing programming at Long Creek, and have recently spearheaded the development of the Southern Maine Re-Entry Coalition, a group of community stakeholders working to help improve the experience of newly released offenders re-entering the community.

 

Their work has gained exposure and has risen in profile since the success of their October 2013 symposium, "The Culture of Punishment, from Parenting to Prisons.” The weeklong event featured lectures, workshops, film screenings and dialogues, and each event included an original performance created by seven young men incarcerated at Long Creek. It culminated with a keynote by Sister Helen Prejean, activist and author of several books, includingDead Man Walking. Over 1,000 community members participated in the events and thousands more witnessed the events through TV and newspaper stories and radio pieces. The ripples have been extraordinary, including readiness on the part of communities to move into action around issues related to justice and support for re-entering individuals. This is the power of art; connecting people across even the most formidable of boundaries.

 

For more info: 
www.maineinsideout.org | maineinsideout@gmail.com

On November 17th, Maine Inside Out hosts an evening of original theater and dialogue focused on the experience of returning home after serving time.   Maine Inside Out participants will share the original play "Days of Change," and host a conversation with community members about the obstacles and challenges people face after incarceration as part of the official launch of Maine inside Out's arts-based reintegration programming.

 

For more information:  www.maineinsideout.org 

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