Restorative Justice FAQ
- What situations can Restorative Justice address?
- What happens in a Restorative Justice Session?
- Does participation require me to sit in the same space with and talk to those I hold responsible for the harm?
- How do parties resolve the harm? What if they don’t like the terms of the resolution?
- What information do participants need to provide in order to participate?
- Am I permitted to bring a supporter with me?
- Who leads the sessions and what are their qualifications?
- Will Restorative Justice Facilitators indicate who is responsible for the harm and what each party must do?
- Will what participants say be used against them in another forum?
- What happens if one or more parties do not abide by the resolution?
- What are the typical outcomes of RJ sessions?
- Where and when do RJ sessions occur? How long do they last?
- How many sessions does participation require?
- How much does it cost to participate?
- What is the NVMS Service Area?
1. What situations can Restorative Justice address?
Different situations might lend themselves either to mediation or to restorative justice, but intake discussions with NVMS staff help to clarify the preferences or choices of those affected. The RJ process typically applies to community situations in which conflicting parties acknowledge that some action (or lack of one) harmed them, and they are seeking ways to address the harm (in addition to other resolutions). These situations may be distributed into two categories:
- Where the underlying conflict or offense involves the commission of a crime, and in so far as justice authorities support an RJ process to address it, RJ facilitators work with the offender(s), the victim(s) and those similarly affected by the harm (e.g., family members, neighbors, colleagues) to acknowledge the harm and its consequences, to take appropriate responsibility for it, and to seek ways to repair it as much as is possible. These cases might involve crimes of theft, simple assault, vandalism, etc.
- Where the underlying conflict or offense does not involve the commission of a crime, RJ facilitators work similarly with those that have been harmed, including when applicable, parties such as merchants or schools. These cases might involve violations of school conduct codes (e.g., fighting, bullying, cheating, etc.). Or cases might involve neighbors that have been harmed over interpersonal relationships or behavior in the community (e.g., noise, infringement on space, etc.)
2. What happens in a Restorative Justice Session?
After an intake conversation, a RJ professional facilitator conducts separate conversations with each of the parties to explain the RJ process, confirm their willingness and readiness to participate, discuss differing perceptions of harm, consequences and interests, and to establish a mutually agreeable date, time and place to meet. Facilitators assemble the parties in a circle format to foster open and direct conversation. They invite each party to respond without interruption to specific questions that enable them to speak and hear each one’s experience of harm and its consequences. They then invite the parties to speak to potential ways in which the harm can be repaired as much as is possible. When the parties reach this point, the facilitators help them record their agreements.
Restorative Justice facilitators conduct separate pre-conferences with each of the participants in order to gain each one’s perspective about a harm they have experienced, what needs they have, and their willingness and readiness to meet jointly with the other participants. In a subsequent joint conference, facilitators help participants to engage in a safe and respectful conversation about their respective interests as well as to construct an agreement that enables them, as much as is feasible, to repair the harm and restore affected relationships.
3. Does participation require me to sit in the same space with and talk to those I hold responsible for the harm?
Yes, but not until the participants indicate in a pre-conference session that they are ready and willing to do so. Direct conversation and interaction fosters a quality of communication that enables mutual understanding and agreement. However, if a participant or a facilitator concludes at any point in the process that direct interaction puts any participant or the process at risk, a facilitator will terminate the conference.
4. How do parties resolve the harm? What if they don’t like the terms of the resolution?
The dynamics of a restorative conference prompt participants to respond positively to each other’s perspectives and needs regarding the effects of harm they have experienced. They are more inclined to find ways to repair the harm that serve their mutual and respective interests. However, each participant retains the right to agree or not agree with any of the terms that emerges from the conference. If agreement cannot be reached, the conference ends. In that atypical instance, the participants often part with a better relationship than the one they shared prior to the harm, even with no agreement.
5. What information do participants need to provide in order to participate?
Restorative Justice Sessions rely principally upon the perspectives provided by each of the participants during pre-conferences, rather than on documents or other materials. Participants may bring any information that they feel will be helpful to discuss and share at the pre-conference, and facilitators will request specific information if they judge it relevant. Joint conferences rely primarily on shared communications and interactions of the participants.
6. Am I permitted to bring a supporter with me?
Supporters of participants are very important allies in a Restorative Justice process. They might be family members, friends, or mentors. Facilitators will ask each participant to identify and invite supporters who will enhance their participation Supporters must participate in a pre-conference session in order to clarify their roles in the process.
7. Who leads the sessions and what are their qualifications?
The NVMS corps of RJ facilitators is trained and experienced in both mediation and Restorative Justice skills. They are members of the local community, and many bring significant additional professional skills or experience to their RJ work.
NVMS’ Restorative Justice Facilitators lead the sessions. They are trained in basic and advanced RJ principles and practices, and they have several years of experience in facilitating conferences in the Northern Virginia community and in the Fairfax County schools and juvenile court.
8. Will Restorative Justice Facilitators indicate who is responsible for the harm and what each party must do?
No. Facilitators will not evaluate participants’ views or recommend responses or actions for them. They will not make any decisions or issue any judgments. Facilitators’ responsibility is to help participants to focus on the shared harm, to identify ways in which it affects each one, and to develop ways to repair the harm and restore relationships. Learning in detail about each participant’s perspective, needs, and interests enable them to craft proposals that are mutually agreeable.
9. Will what participants say be used against them in another forum?
Part of the preliminary steps in a restorative justice conference is a written agreement by the participants to keep confidential what is said or revealed in a conference. There are standard legal exceptions to this agreement (e.g., revelations of child neglect or abuse, commission of a crime, etc.). Although there is no mechanism to enforce confidentiality commitments, participants honor these commitments because of the mutual understanding and appreciation of others’ interests that takes root in a conference.
10. What happens if one or more parties do not abide by the resolution?
In that atypical situation, the participants can agree to return to a conference to address that issue, or they can revert to any proceeding that was in place relating to the harm. For example, a police officer or a probation officer with jurisdiction over a criminal harm could file or revive relevant charges.
11. What are the typical outcomes of RJ sessions?
Conferences lead to a variety of outcomes that meet collective and individual benefits. Participants have the opportunity to share their unique experience of a harm in a safe and respectful forum. They receive answers to questions that are important for them to understand. They gain an appreciation of others’ experience of harm by listening to their sharings. They have a full voice in shaping the terms of an agreement that meets their own needs as well as those of the other participants. They have a genuine opportunity to restore relationships that were fractured by a harm and set steps in place to prevent future harm.
12. Where and when do RJ sessions occur? How long do they last?
RJ sessions take place at NVMS, or at any other venue mutually agreeable to the participants (e.g., a school, court or community facility). Facilitators make every effort to schedule sessions at times mutually agreeable to each of the participants. Ordinarily, pre-conferences last 45-60 minutes and conferences at least 90 minutes. Depending upon the number of participants and the complexity of the issues related to the harm, conferences can last several hours. Facilitators apprise the participants of time and other expectations prior to scheduling the conference.
13. How many sessions does participation require?
In most cases, RJ sessions involve one pre-conference per participant and one joint conference.
14. How much does it cost to participate?
NVMS is a non-profit affiliate of George Mason University. Its mission is to provide affordable and accessible services to the community at large. For that reason, NVMS has a sliding scale that is based solely on income. Many private firms or professionals will calculate fees with retainers, flat rates, or income plus assets, but NVMS only charges for the time that is used. Potential clients can also contact the office directly for a free consultation with an explanation of fees at 703.865.7263.
15. What is the NVMS Service Area?
NVMS provides community mediation, training and related services throughout the Northern Virginia area, including in the Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William as well as the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church and other contiguous cities and towns in the area. NVMS also serves individuals, families, organizations, corporations & agencies throughout the Washington metropolitan area.