By John Boulton, Laura Mirsky

The Bessels Leigh School, in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, a residential special school for boys with emotional and behavioral difficulties, age 11-16, has seen a remarkable change in culture, due to restorative practices.

Via restorative processes both formal and informal, the approximately 28 pupils are encouraged to express their emotions and feelings and consider those of others. In a very powerful way they are made aware of the consequences of their behavior and can recognize the harm that their actions have caused. In partnership with the IIRP and Real Justice UK and SaferSanerSchools UK, Bessels Leigh School is on track to become a demonstration school for restorative practices in the UK.

Established in 1964, Bessels Leigh School formerly served mostly pupils at the milder end of the behavioral spectrum. The philosophy was traditional, structured and authoritarian. Pupils and staff were generally happy, boundaries were not severely tested, pupil-staff relationships were mostly positive and staff turnover was low.

This article in the UK''s Guardian newspaper reports on a survey showing that nearly two-thirds of a random sampleof 991 adult victims of crime believe that prison sentences don''tprevent reoffending. More than half favor face-to-face meetings betweenvictims and offenders, so victims can relate the impact of the crimeand offenders can take responsibility and make amends.

A report on the conference, including a detailed conference schedule and papers related to plenary and breakout sessions.

Paper by Wanchai Roujanavang, director general of the Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection, Thailand Ministry of Justice, presented in a plenary session at "The Next Step: Developing Restorative Communities," the IIRP''s 7th International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, in Manchester, England, UK, November 9-11, 2005.

Paper by Graham Robb, advisor for the Behaviour and Attendance Program, Department for Education and Skills, England, presented in a plenary session at "The Next Step: Developing Restorative Communities," the IIRP''s 7th International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, in Manchester, England, UK, November 9-11, 2005.

Paper by Belgian youth workers Elisabeth Vandenbogaerde and Michael Michiels, presented in a plenary session at "The Next Step: Developing Restorative Communities," the IIRP''s 7th International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, in Manchester, England, UK, November 9-11, 2005.

Paper by IIRP president and founder Ted Wachtel, presented in a plenary session at "The Next Step: Developing Restorative Communities," the IIRP''s 7th International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, in Manchester, England, UK, November 9-11, 2005.

Paper by Rev. Benjamin Shortridge, founder and executive director of Los Angeles Family and Community Empowerment Services, presented in a plenary session at "The Next Step: Developing Restorative Communities," the IIRP''s 7th International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, in Manchester, England, UK, November 9-11, 2005.

By Andrew McWhinnie, Robin J. Wilson

CoSA volunteers Bernie Martens (left) and Wayne Northey participate in a training event in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.“Robert” was released from a Canadian penitentiary in 1994. He had a very long history of assaulting little boys. He was fearsome. He embodied the stereotypical image of the ham-fisted monster hiding behind telephone poles, waiting to snatch an unsuspecting child. The research tells us few such offenders lurk in our midst, but Robert (not his real name) was one of those few. The sentencing court had not declared Robert a dangerous offender. Had it done so, he would have remained in prison indefinitely. Soon, however, he was to be released, and everyone who knew him dreaded the day.

Harry Nigh, a Mennonite pastor in Hamilton, Ontario, a medium-sized city close to Toronto, took a call from a prison psychologist who was working with Robert leading up to his release. Robert had been to Harry’s “Welcome Inn” church in Hamilton before he was arrested and had identified Harry as a possible community support when he was released.

By Mary Shafer

“It Definitely Works”

John Cutro facilitated a restorative conference in the wake of a violent fight in a McDonald’s restaurant in Albany, New York. Six months later, he conducted “verification and learning” interviews with conference participants. Tracy Coleman, mother of a girl present at the fight, who attended the conference, said, “It [conferencing] definitely works. It made an abundance of difference. It [the conflict] wouldn’t have been resolved this fast.” Her daughter, Chanell, added, “I think they’d still be fighting to this day.” Regarding school mediation efforts in response to the incident, she said, “As soon as we left [mediation] we were fighting again. We didn’t get to talk about what had happened, like we did in the conference.”

There is promise inherent in conflict. That’s the vision of John Cutro and Dennis Mosley of Albany, New York, restorative practices consultants who are combining their vision with a flexible approach to the emotionally charged process of restorative conferencing. The result is an inner city that’s getting a handle on its school and street violence, while its citizens take back the power to make proactive decisions about their quality of life.

Missy Oliver (left) and Chanell Coleman (right) were present at the McDonald’s incident. Chanell’s mother, Tracy Coleman (center), attended the conference with her daughter.Restorative conferencing as a dispute resolution tool opens doors to real communication and understanding that remain shut in the face of more traditional methods. Conferencing works because it draws its power from within the community, instead of being imposed upon it from outside.

Cutro previously worked in the New York Capitol Defender’s Office, where he learned that the traditional justice system “is not a system, and it’s ineffective. It’s a process that produces case activities, not justice. It’s adversarial by nature, which causes polarization. Justice is the last thing you’d logically expect to come out of a process like that.”

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