Restorative Justice: Vocabulary and Terms
We provide this page to offer a clearer explanation of the terminology the Reed Restorative Justice Coalition utilizes through its practice. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive statement of Restorative Justice terms, but rather hopes to clarify how the Restorative Justice Coalition at Reed approaches topics, practice, and relationships.
Tenets of Restorative Justice
Community: any group of people with some shared or unifying factor. Groups of people can be large or small, but establishing a strong sense of community is necessary to build resilience in the face of harm or when interacting generally. RJ views community building as the foundation of its practices, an essential component of interacting, addressing harm, and providing support. A strong community is more resilient to harm, which is why RJ focuses on strengthening relationships through community building circles in addition to providing other, more specific circles and resources.
Harm: harm and crime are a violation of a or multiple relationship(s). While an individual can inflict harm upon another, this often also has a general effect on the community as well, thus requiring greater community involvement toward reducing, addressing, and repairing harm.
Facilitator: an RJ coalition member that helps guide circle discussions. Members of the Restorative Justice Coalition are currently trained to facilitate Community Building circles, Harm processes/circles, and Connection and Support circles.
Multi-Partial: being multi-partial, as opposed to impartial, means acknowledging that there was a person harmed and a person who harmed in a situation of harm, but also giving all parties the space to share their perspectives and be heard.
Voluntary: all elements of any circle process are voluntary. Participants can choose not to engage with a particular element, or can participate to the extent that they feel comfortable with. Harm circles and Connection and Support circles are also voluntary, and require all participants to willingly engage with the process.
Confidential: all circles are confidential, and assume that facilitators and participants alike will not disclose the conversations and experiences that happen in the circle. Facilitators are required to disclose information if it involves harm to a minor or a person over 65.
Inclusive: circles are meant to involve anyone impacted by community action and interaction, thus are inclusive of those affected by community interaction and harm in a community.
Impact over intent: in a case of harm, RJ focuses on the impacts of actions, regardless of their doer's intent. Harm can often occur despite non-malicious intentions, and taking accountability for causing harm requires understanding how harm impacts others.
Accountability: the ability to acknowledge one’s role in impacting another person, and to take meaningful action to recognize and repair the harm one caused.
Doing with (not for, or to): taking accountability requires active engagement from the bottom up. While facilitators and the community are there to provide individuals support, individuals are responsible for taking the necessary actions in order to fulfill their commitments to the community. We call this “doing with,” meaning we will help guide and support individuals through taking accountability, but we cannot take accountability for them, nor are we here to distribute punishment to them, as a top-down punitive model might.
Indigenous origins: Restorative Justice, Peacemaking, and Restorative Practices (which by no means exhaust the forms and iterations of circle-keeping practices) have a lengthy history, and a variety of its forms inform how the Reed Restorative Justice Coalition engages with community, harm, and support. Indigenous people across the globe have taught and used Restorative models to resolve conflict and strengthen their communities, and many movements around RJ are reviving across communities whose practices were banned or destroyed by Western practices. We do not engage in traditional or indigenous practices, but we do acknowledge that those practices came before ours, and that there are elements of our approach to community and justice that reflect how some native and indigenous peoples such as the Maori in New Zealand, the Hollow Water First Nation tribe in Canada, and the Kake village in Alaska, model their response to harm. The RJC is currently trying to build connections with current practicing entities to better inform our practice to avoid causing harm in this instance.
Talking Piece: an object brought by the facilitator that guides conversation. The person holding the talking piece is given space to speak, and everyone else the opportunity to listen. The talking piece is passed along the circle through each individual, giving everyone a chance to participate equitably and reducing the presence of hierarchy to promote an open, inclusive, and safe space to share perspectives.
Center Piece: a central object or objects brought by the facilitator. This visual element centers the discussion.
Shared values: the values participants create at the start of a circle, establishing a common understanding for engaging with one another regarding the circle space to promote a sense of security and intent.
Community agreements: agreements created by the collective to guide community interactions beyond the circle space. These can be physically represented in list form.
Circle Format: sitting in an unobstructed circle during discussions to invites openness and reduces hierarchical structures among members. Following a circular order helps guide discussions towards equitable participation, giving everyone an opportunity to share their story and perspective.
Types of circles / processes
Community building circle: a space for community members to authentically engage with one another, promoting openness, understanding, and support to create resilient relationships within a community.
Harm process: the general process that encompasses Restorative Justice cases dealing with harm, from the initial inquiry to individual meetings, the harm circle, and following up with accountability agreements. This process is focused on establishing and meeting needs, understanding root causes, and trying to repair harm through taking accountability.
Harm circle: a part of the harm process where the person harmed, the person who harmed, and other affected members of the community, meet in a circle to discuss what happened, the impacts, and what is needed to repair harm. Harm circles are where participants collaboratively create an accountability agreement (see below for definition of an accountability agreement).
Accountability Agreement: an agreement co-created by the person harmed and the person who harmed during a harm circle. These agreements are focused on meeting the needs of the person harmed and allow the person who harmed to actively acknowledge and repair the impacts they had on others. The facilitator will support the person harmed and the person who harmed when creating the agreement if necessary, but will focus on ensuring that both parties engage in the process to truly promote active steps to restorative justice. Both parties must agree to and sign off on the agreement. Facilitators will follow up for several weeks with the person who harmed and the person harmed to provide any support needed to fulfill the accountability agreement.
Connection and Support Circle: provide an individual community member, called the core member, with the tools and resources necessary to succeed through particular struggles. Connection and Support circles aim to provide individualized support through community, which can mean welcoming a new member, providing a struggling member with additional support, more broadly addressing the needs of individuals in relation to their community, among others. In these, the community collaboratively forms an action plan to support the core member through their struggle. These can be offered to any community member who requests one, either for themselves or for another individual.
“Alternative” method to resolve harm: common terminology used to describe RJ, often with respect to a western-centric, punitive model to address harm. The Reed Restorative Justice Coalition hopes RJ can be seen as an integrated restorative approach to harm rather than as an “alternative” one. We intend to foster and reach all types of communities on campus, to build, repair, and support them. To shift away from defining RJ in opposition to other practices or groups, the Coalition will wane from using language like “alternative” to define its practice.