Restoring Community

commencement 2016 4The IIRP Class of 2016 celebrated Commencement October 23 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On behalf of her class, commencement speaker Dianne Williams, Ph.D., of Trinidad, challenged everyone to “stand for something, believe in something, contribute to something,” concluding, “A restorative approach is the perfect way to do just that.” (Read the full text of the speech below.)

“Our graduates have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping those most in need: improving struggling communities, assisting those who have been traumatized and building relationships with those whom society has often cast out. These are the people who run toward social challenges and crises, not away from them. All of our lives are better because of what they do,” pronounced IIRP President John W. Bailie, Ph.D., when he introduced the IIRP Class of 2016.

The 15 Master of Science recipients include a priest and founder/CEO of a youth-serving agency in New South Wales, Australia; a criminologist/consultant from Trinidad, West Indies; school administrators, teachers and counselors from Brampton, Ontario, Canada; Los Angeles, California; Plainfield, Vermont; Bethlehem, Elverson, Emmaus and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; a U.S. Government advisor from Reston, Virginia; a managed-care liaison from Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and a prison volunteer from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Their capstone projects include explorations of restorative practices in an urban middle school; with interest-based bargaining; English-language learners; elder care; prison inmates; severely traumatized children and youth; violence reduction in Trinidad and Tobago; and social services, as well as discourses on race. 


commencement 2016 3The following is the full text of the commencement speech delivered by Dianne Williams, Ph.D.:

Criminal justice systems typically fight crime by focusing on building more prisons, hiring more police, or writing tougher penalties into law. This is not surprising as high levels of violence weaken the social fabric, destroy confidence among the citizenry, erode any vestige of credibility held by the institutions of social control, and result in a lack of respect for the rule of law, as is being manifested, even today, right before our very eyes. But based on recidivism rates, there is no argument that current punitive measures have proven ineffective over time.

We, the class of 2016 therefore encourage you to adopt another perspective – a perspective that focuses on a restorative approach.

We are all social creatures that need connections and bonds. To improve civil society, we must innovate and create better ways to work through conflict and harm. Criminal justice systems have taken the place of traditional family and community functions. It is time that we as a community take more responsibility for our surroundings. It is time that we create a community of care. Restorative practices focuses, not only on healing and repairing harm, but also restoring relationships and restoring communities.

In contextualizing restorative practices, while one appreciates its roots in the realm of law and order, the challenge is to accentuate opportunities for peacebuilding, promote a culture of respect and understanding, and foster community empowerment. Indeed, in crafting the way forward, adequate consideration must be given to changing public perception, bringing a transformational perspective to the discourse on international restorative practices, and introducing a spirit of reconciliation into our justice systems.

But while this all sounds wonderful, there are some fundamental behavioral changes that need to be made if the restorative process is to have a real and lasting impact.

At the micro-level, restorative practices will sometimes require you to turn the other cheek, to exhibit humility to a fault, and to be a peacemaker. At the macro-level, what the process does NOT want, is for us to continue to focus on the symptom and not the actual problem.

If restorative practices, as a growing field of study, is going to win public support, the restorative process must pass a number of crucial tests. It must be robust and must deliver victim satisfaction, reduce recidivism rates and contribute to the goal of breaking the cycle commencement 2016 2of crime. It must command public confidence.

The process must be visible and transparent and not one that simply diverts offenders from the criminal justice system. That is not the goal. The goal is to reclaim justice for communities and ensure that the way in which justice is delivered is real. This approach is not at all an alternative to the criminal justice system, in fact, to be truly effective, restorative processes and principles must be embedded into and operate within the criminal justice system as a whole.

The bottom line is about harnessing the power of communities to play a part in these resolutions. As such the power of restorative practices lies in the principle of responsibility, not just the offender’s responsibility, but also the community’s responsibility.

But make no mistake, the restorative approach absolutely supports the notion that offending must always have consequences. But those consequences need not necessarily be punitive. There should be the option to make good, repair the damage, or pay back to the victim, to the community and to society. If executed properly, restorative practices can help our communities heal by transforming conflict, by enhancing corporation and ultimately reducing violence.

Getting involved in a restorative approach also requires us to become better human beings. We must feel the need to get involved in social justice issues. We must find ourselves thinking in solution paradigm instead of problem paradigm.

It’s simple really, we must vow to make a difference to a person, make a difference to a family, make a difference to a community, make a difference to our county.

Our class of community activists, school and restorative justice advocates has learned ways to create meaningful change from individual classrooms to an organization, spanning Australia, to working with homeless children, and to changing the ways police work with the community in Trinidad and Tobago.

commencement 2016 1The class of 2016 is proud to join the IIRP family. We are confident that our contribution will be felt beyond the individual, organizational, and country levels. Our ultimate goal is to utilize the skills developed and the exposure gained to contribute, in a meaningful way, to policy making that will positively impact our communities.

We, the class of 2016 are holding ourselves to a standard that will undoubtedly position us to provide guidance, not only at the institutional level but, and perhaps more importantly, at the International level.

In the final analysis, restorative practices represents more than justice. It is about positively influencing human behavior. The class of 2016, therefore challenges you to stand for something, believe in something, contribute to something. We cannot just exist and leave this world without having made a mark. We must make a difference, particularly in this space at this time. A restorative approach is the perfect way to do just that.