Hold States Accountable for Missapplication of Restorative Justice

Connor McBride

This week while reading in Restorative Justice I found that the United Nations has called for the prohibition of Restorative Justice and other forms of pre-sentencing mediation in cases of Violence Against Women. In spite of this injunction, Restorative Justice Advocates continue pressing for more use of manipulative practices to reduce the sentencing of offenders prior to trial. Founders of a research group out of London and Greece recently uploaded a paper (linked from the citation) indicating that “at the time of writing, the United Nations (UN) and the Council of Europe have issued guidance that prohibits their member states from using mediation ‘in all cases of Violence Against Women, both before and during legal proceedings’ (United Nations 2009: 42; Council of Europe 2009).” (Gavrielides and Artinopoulou, 2010) This includes Restorative Justice practices. Violence Against women is defined by the UN as

& “Domestic violence, femicide/ feminicide,
& Sexual violence including sexual assault and sexual harassment,
& Harmful practices including early marriage, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection, virginity testings, HIV/ AIDS cleansing, honour crimes, acid attacks, crimes committed in relation to bride price and dowry, maltreatment of widows, forced pregnancy, and trying women for sorcery/ witchcraft,
& Trafficking and sexual slavery” (United Nations 2009: 24).

In spite of these standards, California activist Sujatha Baliga went to Florida to press for Restorative practices in the case of Ann Grosmaire, murdered by her boyfriend, Connor McBride. The case resulted in a reduced sentence and coerced forgiveness by the victim’s parents.

How should the State of Florida be held accountable for its use of restorative justice in Connor McBride murder of Ann Grosmaire? http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/magazine/can-forgiveness-play-a-role-in-criminal-justice.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

At minimum, file this one under, “International guidance not recognized by graduates of Harvard University.” Put a duplicate in the file for, “critical thinking not applied by writers and editors at The New York Times.”

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Utah, support HB276

Today there is an effort being put forth to support a law in Utah that will protect gun owners from being charged with disorderly conduct when someone who sees a gun but is opposed to gun ownership calls the police. This kind of conduct is tantamount to harassment of gun owners. To voice your support for Utah’s HB276, send an email to the members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee at the following addresses:

coda@le.utah.gov; rgreenwood@le.utah.gov; keithgrover@le.utah.gov; dipson@le.utah.gov; dlayton@le.utah.gov; pray@le.utah.gov; eredd@le.utah.gov; jseelig@le.utah.gov; rspendlove@le.utah.gov; kstratton@le.utah.gov; markwheatley@le.utah.gov

Then contact your house and senate representative by searching them on this map.

Here is some copy to get you started!

“I am writing to request your support of HB276 without further amendments. As a firearm owner I request your support of lawful possession of firearms.

“Currently, when a firearm is seen in public by an anxious or fearful citizen with little or no experience with guns, the owner can be charged with disorderly conduct simply by possessing the arm. This bill will protect the second amendment and firearms owners by making it a requirement that a person with an arm must be demonstrating disorderly behaviors, not simply possessing a particular item on his or her person before a charge of disorderly conduct is made. With the growth of urban environments in Utah, gun ownership and firearm understanding is on a decline in the Salt Lake city core. To protect human rights, with the right to self-defense standing as the fundamental right on which all other human rights derive, it is necessary that we take proactive steps to prevent infringement on gun owners in our state.

“Currently HB276 is in committee. Please make every effort to move HB276 to the floor for a vote and to approve HB276 post haste without further revision or amendment.”


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The 5th National Conference on Restorative Justice

In 2015 the 5th National Conference on Restorative Justice will be held in Florida, and the conference should pick up on unfinished business that was begun during the 4th National Conference in Toledo, Ohio.

The first order of business should be the establishment of some real restorative dialogues around the topic of gun violence. In her keynote address in 2013, Angela Davis discussed the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Shootings are not a new topic for Angela. In 1970 Angela armed a 17 year old high school student and activist, Jonathan Jackson, with several firearms, including a shotgun purchased two days in advance of his crimes which had the barrel illegally sawed off. Jackson used Angela’s weapons to take hostages in a court of law, including the judge, Harold Haley who was killed with a blast from Angela’s shotgun. Angela was acquitted by a jury, and since that time has done nothing to restore the relationships harmed by her actions.

Angela has been acquitted of her crimes, but that does not mean she cannot be held accountable. In Restorative Justice, there is no end to engagement between an offender and victim. New Zealand was the first country to develop and implement Restorative Justice on a broad scale, and in New Zealand a victim may call a follow-up conference at any time. It is worth following the practices established in that foundational work.

Two of the key principles articulated in the training documents used by the New Zealand Department of justice to train new facilitators are honesty and truthfulness. (Module 1). The training RJ practitioners receive in New Zealand also emphasizes faulty offender thinking patterns including such statements as : “Someone else is to blame. It’s definitely not my fault.” The note on such comments by the New Zealand Department of justice is that such statements may indicate “A fear or reluctance to accept the consequence usually underlies this thinking.” (module 2)

In her presentation, Angela described being on the run from justice and seeing a news report on television about herself and the national attempts to arrest her and to put her on trial. She said the news reporter described her as armed and dangerous, effectively inviting anyone in the country to shoot her, suggesting that the concealed carry laws in Florida created a similar circumstance for Trayvon. Another interpretation is that citizens were warned to avoid her.

If restorative justice is about recognizing and apologizing for harms caused by one’s actions, Angela could have taken her presentation in a different direction. She could have acknowledged the harms caused by providing arms to an angry teen fueled by counter cultural messages. Angela never expressed sympathy for the victims killed with her firearms, and she also never acknowledged that it would be reasonable for her to turn herself in and use the court process to show her innocence. Her interest was in displaying herself as an innocent victim of government injustice.

The court was good enough for Angela Davis, why not for Mumia Abu Jamal or any of the others Angela seeks to free?

Let’s make the 5th National Conference on Restorative Justice really about justice. Could Angela own responsibility for her actions and make a public apology?

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Dylan Farrow and the Subjugation of Victims of Sex Crimes Against Children

Today I received an email from my mother – her response to my paper presented at the 4th National Conference on Restorative Justice. The paper, available online at https://independent.academia.edu/AlanMurdock, addresses risks to the community inherent in the Restorative Justice approach to crime. The paper uses my history as victim of child sex abuse at the hands of a property offender who was released through the intervention of a Restorative Justice organization called “The Committee on Criminal Justice,” now known as the “Center for Creative Justice” in Ames, Iowa.

In my mother’s email, she wrote, “I have read your paper and think I’ve already said that I didn’t think CCJ had any authority over (offender name) after the trial when he was set up with Rick Smith as his probation officer.

“The question in my mind is, how long had this been going on, and whether he had done any of the grooming while still under CCJ’s authority. I think since he was on probation at the time we learned about it, that CCJ really didn’t have the authority to do anything. I don’t remember mentioning it to Lynette. All my communication at that point was with Rick Smith.”

My paper presents the facts. The suspended sentence of my offender was granted BECAUSE the court expected the CCJ to continue supervising the offender. My father spoke with the CCJ. Here is the photo my mother took. The photo she emailed me when I started researching the facts of my case. The photo of the entry by Judge Seizer in the Big Book in Story City.

Big Book CCJ comment 2

…considering that his release should be under the supervision of the Committee on Criminal Justice. CCJ doesn’t get to talk their way out of a court order. They were responsible. They are responsible. And the Iowa Department of Parole is responsible for their failure to enforce strict probation according to the court’s order.

I believe the State of Iowa owes me $14 million dollars for harm done and that the CCJ, its sponsors and founders owe me additional monies for their failures to create appropriate protections given the felony charges and psychiatric evaluation of the offender.

My mother also wrote, ” You know that they stopped dealing with potential felons after (offender name). It was just bad checks, personal support and accounting expertise.”

They knew what occurred was bad enough to stop the restorative justice experiment with felons, but it wasn’t bad enough to report to the court.

So, what does it have to do with Dylan? Everyone is aware of the attacks on Dylan after her open letter. They have been all over Twitter, Facebook and blogs across the web. After my mother’s rejection of my careful research that led to my presentation at the 4th National Conference on Restorative Justice and my interview by IARS, a research group on Restorative Justice out of London, she wrote this:

“Today everyone knows a lot about molestation, but back then, we didn’t know that people attracted to children weren’t mature enough to take a parental role and set limits with them. We didn’t know they couldn’t perceive that they were the responsible ones in any relationship with a child. I haven’t read Lolita, but my understanding is that the author casts this little girl as a seductress. Well if a little girl gets inappropriately sexy, it is incumbent on the adult to show her where the limits of appropriate behavior are. The molester sees themselves as equal, not older, and in their own mind feel free to blame the child.

That thing you posted from Woody Allen’s daughter was an eye-opener for me. Not so much what she said, but the articles that Facebook posted just below that story in which Woody Allen kinda sorta denies it and Woody Allen’s friend ‘explains’ it all away.

“Makes me glad I didn’t have the smarts to ask you about it, because no one can say you were ‘coached’. Those three articles made me feel kind of sick, seeing just exactly how victims are discounted and dismissed with a facade of ‘kindness’ that is crazy-making-awful.”

That thing. Makes me glad I didn’t have the smarts.

That thing.

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Restorative Justice interview With IARS

This is the transcript of an interview of Alan Murdock by researcher Max Portales of the research group IARS. The interview was part of a research project, Restorative Justice in Europe: Safeguarding Victims & Empowering Professionals.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 –7:19 AM

Maximiliano Portales


thanks Allan

Alan Murdock

good morning!

Maximiliano Portales

good morning how are you?

Alan Murdock

I’m doing well. I’m sorry for the delay, but glad to get started.

Maximiliano Portales

Thanks Alan. My name is MAx I work for IARS and I am going to ask you some questions related to Restorative Justice

Alan Murdock

that sounds great.

Maximiliano Portales


first of all

I understand you were victim of a crime?

Alan Murdock


Maximiliano Portales

which kind of crime was?

Alan Murdock

It was a sex crime. I was molested by an offender freed through the intervention of a restorative and community justice organization in Iowa in 1977. I was further wronged by that group when they protected the offender from investigation.

Maximiliano Portales

How many time has happened since the crime was comited?

Alan Murdock

How much time? Ah… 36 years almost exactly. The offense occurred in August 1977

Maximiliano Portales

thanks Alan, Was the offender caught? sentenced?

Alan Murdock

The offender was out on a suspended sentence the community justice group helped negotiate with the court. His other offenses were property and drug offenses, but he was only tried on the property offenses. The term was to be 20 years, but because this group was working to restore the offender,he received the suspended term. After the sex offenses I found a television in our basement that he stole from the local school. His term was reinstated, so he went back to prison, but not for the offenses against me.

My offense was never investigated.

Maximiliano Portales

Did you receive the offer to have a restorative justice meeting?

Alan Murdock

No. I was thee years old.

Well, let me restate that. My father conducted a family circle in the yard where my offender was forgiven for me. He was told forgiveness is the Christian thing to do.

Maximiliano Portales

so you wanted to have a restorative process with the offender?

Alan Murdock

No. I wanted the case investigated and for him to be returned to prison. My experience is that was a tyranny of pacifism. There are multiple examples I am researching from the literature including a case documented by Helen Bowen where a family let a grandfather off for a sex offense against his granddaughter in a court facilitated conference and one in which Howard Zehr facilitated

a reduced penalty for a neighborhood child molester who had victimized his daughter documented in Changing Lenses.

Maximiliano Portales

what was your involvement in the case?

Alan Murdock

My involvement was as victim, reporter of the offense.

Maximiliano Portales

Would you have said yes to a restorative justice process?

and if so, why?

also how do you thing a RJ meeting could have helped you?

Alan Murdock

No. Abuse offenders already use the same techniques of catharsis and control that the restorative justice process uses. Restorative justice is at a high likelihood of continued wrongs against the victim in the case of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The theoretical framework I am looking through is called the “Double bind.” I hope to present a paper titled “Restorative Justice and Criminal Justice: The Double Double Bind” at some point soon.

Maximiliano Portales

interesting point of view

So do you think that RJ doesn’t work ?

if it doesn’t work do you have that opinion for every type of crime?

Alan Murdock

I think it has limited application. The biggest problem I see with RJ in the literature is the conflict over the concept of “social control.” Academic researchers suggest RJ only has social control, but the activist approach, stemming from the work of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, believe RJ is a space for freedom from social control as expressed through judicial justice.

I think encouraging offenders to reflect and think is good, and some schools in the US are using “restorative detention” where students have to discuss and consider their actions that got them in detention. But that kind of group work and group therapy has been ongoing for years within the prisons. It’s nothing special.

Maximiliano Portales

In case that you accept to have a RJ meeting, would you have physical/ safety concerns?

if so, what could allay these fears?

Alan Murdock

New Zealand is the only country that indicates significant risks to the victim in going through the RJ process. Their training materials available online are pretty extensive.

They counter the faith-based expressions of most activists.

Maximiliano Portales

Which safeguards for the victim do you think are important for a RJ meeting?

Alan Murdock

I believe that the RJ organization must be continually evaluated by a third party. The ideological thinking that led the group in Iowa to ignore and cover up the offense against me must be rooted out. Ideologies such as “the school to prison pipeline” are inaccurate, for example juvenile offending in the US has been on a 20 year decline according to the department of justice website, and suggesting that schools and cultural institutions are pushing students into prison is an unstudied, emotional appeal. Groups working with state held offenders must not participate in such ideological thinking. That is the root of the risk for victims. The risk that the facilitator will mishandle the process or meeting, and that the facilitator’s objective will be to placate and subjugate the offender to a larger objective of freeing the offender from prison is extremely high. That is not protecting the victim or community.

Maximiliano Portales

would you recommend to a victim take part in a RJ meeting?

Alan Murdock

It would depend upon the case and the track record of the group. there is one group in Arizona that does not come from the “social collective” ideology. They work with youth on minor offenses and are managed by the court. There are some components of “restorative” practice, but it might not fit what Howard Zehr or other founders would consider RJ. I would support participation in that group.

Maximiliano Portales

As a victim, what do you thing is the most important thing about the way to deal with crime?

who should be making the decision-victims, police, courts?

Alan Murdock

I think that providing victims control is the most important thing. This is supported by the research in New Zealand. Self defense classes, access and ability to report, and validation for the victim are the most important things.

Different groups need to have control at different times. Many investigations need to be secretive, so police need control there. Courts have the right control over the proceedings, and victims need control and support in their process.

In my experience it is ambiguity that perpetuates wrongs and subjugates victims. RJ relies in many cases on ambiguity, and many people who want to leverage ambiguity for their own ends are drawn to the movement.

Maximiliano Portales

How old are you Alan?

Alan Murdock

I am 39. I will be 40 on te 19th.

Maximiliano Portales

Thanks a lot Alan your answers are very complete and they will be very very useful

Alan Murdock

I appreciate you hearing my position.

Maximiliano Portales

I see that you know a lot about RJ

Alan Murdock

If you have any follow up questions feel free to send me a note. I also have references for everything I mentioned I this chat if you need them.

Maximiliano Portales

Thank you very much Alan if I have any question related with your answers I will definitely contact you again…

thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your experience with us

really appreciate it

Alan Murdock

You are welcome. Have a great day. Goodbye!

Maximiliano Portales

good bye thnaks again! have a good one!

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Restorative Dialogs in Business

A friend, Ken Johnson recently published a two part series on workplace bullying at themedes.org. The series is excellent, with the first article highlighting that violence can be physical or non-physical, and that it is important for people to be cognizant of non-physical forms of violence.
As a firearms instructor, I have to put on my Concealed Firearms Permit instructor hat and point out that violence and force are different. In the Utah Concealed Firearms permit class this is why we always refer to levels of “force” not levels of violence. When someone says, “I’m going to kill you,” it’s important to be aware that they are making a violent threat, but on the use of force continuum, this is at the verbal level. Your responsibility is to make every effort to deescalate the situation.

As I say in my concealed firearms class, “At this level of conflict I can eat a lot of shit and still have a smile on my face.”

It is incumbent upon us as responsible citizens to walk away whenever possible. Only when an offender rises to the level of immediate threat to life or limb is it permissible in Utah to use deadly force in defense of self or others. In the case where workplace bullying becomes a life or limb reality, for most of us it is unlikely we will have access to a firearm if our employer has a no weapons policy in the workplace. Defense minded citizens need to find other strategies for dealing with immediate threats in the building. Several firearms groups have made statements about citizen’s rights to self-defense in the workplace, but business owner’s rights to establish rules of conduct prevail.

Ken’s second article in the series addresses the issue of ongoing stress and pressure in the workplace – increased workload, more stringent business goals, manipulative and abusive management tactics which may boil down to an active shooter scenario.

Ken writes, “The problem with catabolic conflict is that it is cyclical and even viral if left unmanaged. According to Dr. Ron Claassen, professor at Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies, there are five stages to the unmanaged conflict cycle: Stage I – Change: Confusion/Tension; Stage II – Role Dilemma; Stage III – Injustice Collecting; Stage IV – Confrontation; and Stage V – Adjustments.”

What is unclear in the article, however, is why some situations like this devolve into violence, but the vast majority do not. Every one of us has a story we have experienced or one of our friends has experienced where a district manager bullies the store manager who increases pressure on associates, the environment became oppressive and terminations are near at hand for some, while others duck and cover, and survive under less than ideal conditions.

The primary reason, I believe, is that most people in this kind of environment either don’t participate in stage 3, injustice collecting, or they skip stage IV and make adjustments to their environment, even seeking other employment. The truth is that there are no perfect “just” environments, and people are highly adaptive with different levels of interest in confrontation based on what they see around them and how they interpret the landscape. Someone focused on perceiving injustice might sit right next to someone focused on finishing work and going to a movie with friends. They might work in the same business, but perceive different worlds operating around them.

The question is, if business is responsible to create a safe environment, and the path to the safe environment is managing employee perceptions of justice, to what level is business responsible for managing the mind of the employee?

In ethical business environments there are measures and release valves put in place to identify when interventions on managerial processes should take place. One of these measures is employee turnover. Many businesses identify acceptable and unacceptable rates of turnover. When rates become too high, or employee exit interviews indicate internal problems such as bullying, human resources teams can begin a process of realignment.

Ken makes the statement that “Most companies and even academics do not understand or appreciate the gravity of the situation.” In my experience, this is not the case. Working in both security and management, having studied management and strategy, and teaching business courses including business ethics, I see many case studies of workplace violence discussed at even the store manager level.

In my understanding, where workplace pressures turn to violence, at the bottom of the transition from nonviolent action and adaptation to violent action and adaptation is a worker who perceived there was no release valve, or that they could not use the release valves available to them without catastrophic harm to themselves – their careers, their income, their credibility. The employee may feel stuck in a double bind.

Read more about the double bind in this article. http://www.theguntutor.com/2013/11/15/if-this-isnt-working-i-wont-do-it-anymore/

Ken proposes the use of Restorative Justice techniques to resolve workplace violence. “Somewhat different from a traditional ADR, RJ facilitators focus more on ‘conflict transformation’ than on ‘conflict resolution.’ RJ facilitators are quite at home with concepts such as community-based mediation sessions.”

The focus on conflict transformation rather than resolution suggests a move from the ethical framework based in checks and balances and a move to an integrated emotional model of relationship management in the workplace.

My concern with moving from an ethical architectural model of management, where emphasis is placed on managing business outcomes to an emotional model where business is responsible for managing the mind and the perceptions of justice or injustice held by their employees has to do with the scope organizations have over their employees and the larger culture.

I find this transition to move business from an ethical framework to a moral framework. Regardless of my perceptions, there are many organizations that want to make the switch to this kind of conflict resolution. But what could be the consequences?

Double binds in business are pervasive. Even the ethical structure itself, where store level managers are under scrutiny by human resources and under sales target pressures from senior management, utilizes the double bind to frame manager’s work.

Gregory Bateson described positive and negative double binds – the positive, when someone chooses the role, and the negative, when someone feels entrapped by opposing statements. A manager who takes on and thrives between these conflicting pressures might fit the former, where a manager who believes the company is attempting to undermine his or her success with conflicting forces could fall into the latter.

So, given a corporate business environment, how could the restorative encounter be framed, and would the restorative encounter change the risk of violence in the workplace?

Let’s suppose that employees at a struggling department store feel bullied by their manager to meet ever increasing sales targets due to financial misses earlier in the year. A collaborative roundtable with an emphasis on restoration could be established, but who should participate in the process? The staffing manager might be called out for showing stress in front of employees when discussing sales targets, but then telling them they are doing a good job. Employees may perceive these conflicting expressions as indicators they are at risk in their work environment. Their department managers may then also reinforce individual sales targets with increased levels of verbal warning about missing goals.

In a “restorative” engagement sales associates may be able to express their feelings and gain catharsis, but the manager would be expected to conceal corporate pressures coming from the VP of sales, the store finance director and others within the business. The store manager would be at risk of falling into a negative double bind scenario in the name of restoration.

In such an environment it would not be possible to involve everyone who creates pressure to be involved. Some businesses are set up so that a region is responsible for a dollar return on investment. The parent company simply sets the expectation, and managers are held accountable to deliver. Should the parent company be involved in a restorative meeting, to consider their influence on unhealthy pressures within the regional or store level environment? Should the board of directors and stockholders be involved as well?

From the societal model of ethics promoted by Debbie Thorne McAlister O. C. Ferrell and Linda Ferrell in their book Business and Society: A Strategic Approach to Social Responsibility, there must be a top down commitment to ethics, and release valves such as an ethics hotline where individual identity is kept private. Checks and balances such as private corrective action, feedback sessions where concerns may be heard, considered and an integrated corporate response can be made.

This is a description of the “managed work environment” Dr. Ron Claassen was describing when he wrote about the five stages of the unmanaged conflict cycle. It takes measures to clarify the responsibility and the outcomes expected. From this ethical framework, should an individual employee shift into the mindset of the negative double bind and injustice collecting, the employee’s actions are his or her responsibility, and it is not the businesses responsibility to cater people who may choose to become violent.

The reality is that any employee at any time in any environment can frame their work in terms of injustice and make a choice to become physically violent. Customers can come into a business with violent criminal intent. A person may become violent for no apparent reason, or the sense of injustice may come from another source outside of work. The business does not hold the responsibility to closely investigate the mind of its employees and customers in their personal lives to determine risk, but rather to respond to warnings and risks that emerge within the business setting. There should be a hurdle to investigation based in ethical organizational architecture frameworks. Transforming the business framework to a moral model takes down this hurdle and gives business the responsibility to manage the mind of the employee.

It is, however, incumbent upon these businesses to create opportunities for self-protection against attack. Whether this means allowing concealed carry qualified employees to be armed at work, providing armed security, allowing concealed carry by licensed employees, or allowing lower levels of defensive force such as a stun device, it is an important question for all workers to consider.

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Facebook: The Smorgasboard of Life

This morning Facebook wants me to do a survey. I suspect that is bad news because the only thing I have to tell them is, “I much preferred when you figured out everything I like, want and need simply from mining my data.” Sorry. Not gonna do the survey.

Maybe Facebook should click this photo to read the linked article instead of asking me


Or maybe I should respond, “I like Facebook because it is so much better than all those messenger apps the teens are using these days. It’s so much more… I dunno… adult, but like an adult that never grew up – not like Linked in where everyone is adult all the time. I mean, on linked in you don’t get barf jokes, and you have complete sentences and, like, links directly to whole Articles! woah! Facebook is great because you get whole (mostly) sentences and some barf jokes and some links. It’s the smorgasbord of life. These kids, they just don’t get that. They want eCandy all the time.

Maybe Facebook should have a campaign – “When you’re sick of eCandy come on over to Facebook: The smorgasbord of Life.”

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If This Isn’t Working, I Won’t Do It Anymore

“First, I want to start with some foundational concepts: crime is social, and to address crime we need to address the social roots of crime. We also need to remember the fundamental principles of restorative justice….”

I was sitting in a circle with some of the most important minds in Restorative Justice practice today: Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, the director of the Mennonite Central Committee program for Restorative Justice. Sujatha Baliga, the former prosecutor and current Director of the Restorative Justice Project, and Associate Director at National Council on Crime and Delinquency(NCCD). Mrs. Baliga most notably negotiated a reduced sentence for murderer, Connor McBride following a restorative dialogue between the offender and the victim’s parents. Another attendee, not on the panel, was Theo Gavrieledes, founder of IARS, the Independent Academic Research Studies. His research group focuses on community-based solutions to crime seeking evidence-based outcomes to improve on traditional court, probation, parole and prison based approaches to crime with a bias toward supporting community led initiatives. The person introducing the topic was,Nuri Nusrat, a program associate at NCCD.

We were there to discuss sexual abuse against children in minority communities, specifically, the community intervention with Hollow Water, a native community in Canada where child sexual abuse was, according to the presentation, ingrained in the community to the extent that nearly all community members were involved as either victims or offenders.

Sujatha raised the question of what would have become of her and her family had she reported the crime. Would her father sit in an American prison while her mother, she and her siblings undergo deportation back to her home country where women have extremely limited means as compared to the west? The conflict and tension in the circumstance was apparent – western culture with its scientific and evidence based models provides benefits, but also risk. Women have won rights because inequity in Western society can be measured in wages, employment rates. Courts, with their opposing sides and arguments against one another, proving and winning positions, defend rights and create opportunity. At the same time, the scientific lens of investigation can tear families apart. The western emphasis on equality of treatment requires that all immigrant families are treated equally.

“Immigrant communities will not report sex abuse,” Sujatha said. She had described her own experience of sex abuse over years at the hands of her father, offenses she says she has forgiven. “Families where incest is discovered and prosecuted face deportation.”

Victims always face “double bind” logic from their abusers, the kind of abuse that says “you can’t talk because you and your mother will be deported. You can’t talk because it will break up the family. You can’t talk because you’ve participated this long and no one will believe you.” Sujatha’s argument is that minority communities face pressure that is far and above worse than other victims. As a white male victim of child sexual abuse I can assure her that the double bind exists in all communities. I was presented with similar double binds after a felon freed through the intervention of restorative justice harmed me. “There’s no place for him to go” my parents repeated after their efforts to report were shut down before the information could reach the judge who presided over my offender.

The presenters suggested that the court based system, with its approach to equal treatment of offenders within established classifications is too cold, unemotional and uncaring of what happens to people who go through the system. Instead of reforming laws about how social services responds to sex abuse in immigrant communities, the presenters proposed something like the restorative community circle, as was used in Hollow Water, Canada. This model, they contend, might support immigrant communities by moving away from the accusatory offender/victim model of the court, toward something that might focus on what harm was done and how it could be repaired.

The Hollow Water case is celebrated by Restorative Justice advocates as a win for collectivist intervention. According to the presentation, nearly the entire community was involved in ongoing child sexual abuse and incest. What would justice look like from a social services approach in such a circumstance? Could the state go in and take all of the children away from a native community in what would be seen as a repeat of historical wrongs against native peoples – the march of tears, broken treaties, children taught by missionaries to reject their language and tradition, native reservations moved and moved again onto less and less desirable land?

Instead of a massive social services intervention, community circles were organized where perpetrators and victims could face one another and talk out the harms and how to resolve the wrongs. It sounds good on paper.

Where the Hollow Water intervention becomes more complicated than was expressed by the panel is in the assessment by critics of restorative justice among indigenous law writers. The panel’s presentation did not take an academic approach to the issue, and Sujatha made only a vague mention of concerns that were raised. Had the presentation been academic it would have addressed the numerous critiques of the Hollow Water case that have been published in the literature. Mary Koss and Mary Achilles write:

“circles are critiqued widely in the indigenous law literature (Rave, 2004). One of the best known programs is the Hollow Water First Nation Community Holistic Circle Healing approach to sexual offenders, their victims, and families (see Umbreit et al., 2006). The identified strengths of this program were having a voice and a stake in justice, the context of mutual respect, and renewed community and cultural pride. However, the model has been the subject of a series of critiques from within and outside the community. Expressed concerns included lack of privacy, embarrassment working with family and close friends, unprofessional conduct, coercion on survivor/victims because they are outnumbered, deferral to professionals by Native people, and class, gender, culture, and race bias (Cuneen, 2004). One legal scholar has suggested that circles do not even qualify as restorative justice (Coker, 2004). To her, circles involve the same criminal justice players as a conventional sentencing and may lack a clear normative judgment about what constitutes illegitimate conduct towards women.” (Koss, Achilles, 2008)

The panel suggested that Hollow Water is a breakthrough example of how to address child sexual abuse and incest in minority and immigrant communities. As an attendee of the session I found it to be poorly organized with an assumption that attendees would naturally accept that a restorative option is the right option.

In light of the bias presented, Sujatha’s bold statement, “If this isn’t working, I won’t do it anymore,” was particularly concerning. In Hollow Water it didn’t work. Victims were bullied and women were treated by the community as though their worth comes from their ability to perform sex acts.

The panel never presented a format they believed would work. The tone hovered between something like massive cultural interventions on groups where child sex abuse rates are high and something like a diversion program where offenders who acknowledge the wrong are shuttled out of penalties such as prison or deportation into caring and sharing circles where harms like fondling or inappropriate exposure of sex organs all the way up to child rape can be patched over for the betterment of us all.

The truth is that criminal wrongs are individual and they are social. Starting with an assumption that wrongs come out of a milieu ignores that individuals from a given social context make different choices. One chooses to touch a child. Another doesn’t. One chooses a lesser, and not illegal, wrong of consensual infidelity with an adult. Another doesn’t. Social norms, like a culture of secrecy and privacy, or, alternately, a culture of permissiveness can create a backdrop to individual wrongdoing, but they don’t create it, and addressing social norms may or may not have an impact on wrongdoing, depending on the drives, internal justifications and behaviors of the offender.

As an audience member/participant I was greatly dissatisfied with the session. I had hoped for a well-researched, academic study, but what I saw was a pep rally. My only question leaving the session was, “How much does it have to not work before we can get back to the real work of justice?”

To me, justice work is complicated and hard. There are no magical, miraculous outcomes. Evidence has to be weighed, and the work must come from an ethical, not moral foundation. Sometimes it needs force. Sometimes it needs investigation. And sometimes it needs conversation and dialogue. But none of those things are better than the others. None is more “right.”

A coerced social pacifism in the face of great wrongdoing is certainly not the right path.


Koss, M. and Achilles, M. (2008, February). Restorative Justice Approaches to Sexual Violence. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved August 11, 2013, from: http://www.vawnet.org http://www.vawnet.org/applied-research-papers/print-document.php?doc_id=1231

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Huffington Post Denies Discourse on Restorative Justice

Yesterday a blogger posted an article regarding a proposed new law in Massachusetts supporting Restorative Justice. My post, while substantively different from those I posted on Molly Rowan’s celebration of Restorative Justice, was blocked for being too similar to my response to Molly.

You read the articles and decide. Here is a link to yesterday’s article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pierre-r-berastain/restorative-justice-bill-in-massachusetts_b_3710744.html

Here is my response:

This article highlights some of the great risks that arise with the implementation of restorative justice in our community. Should our secular justice system be implementing a system based around theological concepts such as sin, forgiveness and redemption? In much of the restorative justice literature reference is made to philosophers such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, men who developed the concept of “theodicy,” the defense of God’s goodness in the face of great wrongdoing. In some of these philosophies the idea that wrongdoing exists to provide meaning and redemption for the faithful. This is what I see in statements like Mrs. Connors’ claim that RJ gave meaning to her son’s death.
My own experience of Restorative Justice goes back to the dawn of the philosophy, in 1977 when a group in Iowa freed a property felon and placed him in my family home through their housing mission. I was offended against sexually, and when the crime was reported by my parents to the community justice and rj justice organization and its affiliates, the offense was suppressed. Though I have repeatedly requested the founders of the RJ group to meet with me they continue to reject that they mismanaged the case. What does it say for restorative justice that its advocates will not admit wrong or come to the table? I suggest it means that RJ is based in faith – the faithful are right and have just cause to control their community. Read more at http://wp.me/p2ETtt-bU

Here is a link to Molly’s article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/molly-rowan-leach/restorative-justice-is-on_b_3612022.html

Scroll down to the comments and expand the collapsed threads. Molly never came back to respond to my comments. Is it unreasonable to go to a new author, highlight how he is promoting the same risks and to ask him to answer what Molly could not? Let me know.

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Great New Blog

Check out a great new blog by writer Karrie Higgins. Karrie writes fascinating material about Salt Lake City, faith and crime. Also, check out her work in Black Clock 16.

I find Karrie’s work to be the most powerful writing about the West in a long time.

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