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Restorative practices explored

Two-hundred professionals from across many disciplines and different countries attended the 19th World Conference of the International Institute of Restorative Practices’ (IIRP) at the Hotel Bethlehem in October. The IIRP is the only graduate school wholly dedicated to the study of restorative practices, and since the institute was founded in Bethlehem in 2000, it has been instrumental in spreading the practices throughout Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia.

Defined as a new social science, the goal of restorative practices is to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision-making using interpersonal techniques. With the theme “Restorative Works: Share, Teach, Engage,” the three-day conference brought together practitioners, researchers and thinkers who are helping develop and apply the new field.

Presentations included teaching and sharing sessions on implementing and sustaining restorative practices in a variety of settings from schools and prisons, to families and the workplace. Participants were able to select from a wide variety of topics, such as:

• Notes from Baltimore: Can Restorative Practices Help Us Have Inclusive, Honest, National conversations About White Privilege?

• Veterans Welcomed Home with Restorative Justice

• Cyberbullying: Using Restorative Processes Creatively to Educate, Increase Awareness and Reduce the Incidence

• Working Constructively With Anger in a Restorative Reporting Center

• Enhancing Employee Engagement

A session on the Ohio prison system explained how restorative practices are used to reintegrate inmates into society. Michael Davis, Ph.D., and Roxanne Swogger said the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has a unique three-tier approach that provides offenders with opportunities to prepare for return to their communities as viable citizens.

Davis said since the 1970s, the country has gone through a period of mass incarcerations where the philosophy was “lock and feed.” Now, he continued, “People are looking at how to prepare people for re-entry into society. The three-tier program allows the prisoner to work his way to a less restrictive environment and more autonomy.”

The 50,000 inmates in Ohio prisoners also have chances to earn their GEDs, receive job training, and participate in activities that give back to the community. Davis said this creates a sense of hope, but the system also holds the prisoners accountable for their actions. “They have both increased responsibility and opportunity for personal growth.”

The use of restorative practices in school settings was a frequent topic among the more than 80 teaching and sharing sessions. Experiences of schools and school districts from Maine to Los Angeles to Singapore were explained. Discussions were held on how to apply restorative practices to such issues as student discipline, school-based arrests, teachers’ education and bullying.

There is a hierarchy that must be met for successful transition of offenders from prison back to the community, according to Dr. Michael Davis. In order for restorative practices to work, he said, inmates must be safe, there must be stability and order, and “We have to be serious about our mission to treat with respect.”