Restoring Community

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The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) has a particular way of defining restorative and related terms that is consistent throughout our courses, events, videos and publications. We have developed our definitions to facilitate communication and discussion within the framework of our own graduate school and for those who are part of our restorative community.

For example, at one of our symposia, a young man insisted that his school already held conferences with students and their families, not realizing that most of the other participants at the event were not referring to a generic conference, but to a restorative conference. A restorative conference is a specific process, with defined protocols, that brings together those who have caused harm through their wrongdoing with those they have directly or indirectly harmed.

Others have defined teen courts, youth aid panels or reparative boards as restorative justice, while the IIRP defines those processes as community justice, not restorative justice. Such community justice processes do not include an encounter between victims and offenders, which provides an opportunity to talk about what happened and how it has affected them (Van Ness & Strong, 2015). Rather, these courts, panels and boards are comprised of appointed community members who have no real emotional stake in the incident. These bodies meet with offenders, but victims, their families and friends are not generally invited. Restorative justice, in contrast, offers victims and their supporters an opportunity to talk directly with offenders.

Our purpose is not to label other processes or terms as positive or negative, effective or ineffective. We respect the fact that others may define terms differently and, of course, have every right to do so. Rather, we simply want to define and share a consistent terminology to create a unified framework of understanding.