Not Impartial

A couple of days ago I was having a pre-circle meeting with a juvenile offender and his mother. One of the reasons for having a pre-circle meeting is to make sure they understand what to expect at the restorative conference. Only then can they give informed consent. Another part is to help them  understand the role of our staff. Unless we explicitly explain otherwise, there will often be some confusion regarding our role. We may be seen as officers of the court, police, or probation officers. Or as social workers or therapists. So we explain that we are not any of these things; rather we are circle keepers who arrange an opportunity in which the community can come to grips with the incident, the harms that occurred, and ways to make things as right as possible.

This is a fair description, but incomplete. It’s likely that if we stopped there  we would give an impression that we are impartial. But we are not. And I think this is one of the things that differentiates restorative justice from some types of mediation. We are, in fact, partial to the victim, in the sense that we see the offender as having wronged the victim, and in so doing incurred obligations and the consequent responsibility to step up and try to make things right.

We  have no such expectations of the victim. To have any notions of victim obligations  is to risk creating a situation in which they are re-victimized. This is not to say that victims are  not expected to participate in a way that makes constructive outcomes possible; they are. And much of our pre-circle work with victims is about helping them come to that place where they are ready for frank, honest, interactions with offenders that are not personal attacks.

Where we are impartial is in our sense of valuing each person in the room, and of giving each the opportunity share as fully as they are ready to and feel the need to–to speak from the heart, and to be heard from the hearts of others.

So I made sure to tell our young offender and his mother that we are not impartial, and to explain it in this sense. They understood.

I do wonder, however, how universally shared this view is among RJ professionals. Feel free to comment…


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