Prison Ministry Restorative Justice Program

     This is a picture of Susan Heneman handing out the diplomas in the prison at Portage during one of our first Restorative Justice graduations. Last week we celebrated our fortieth graduation.
     Fifteen years ago I was in prison. I had been invited to go inside the hundred year old walls of the prison in Green Bay to be part of something called Restorative Justice. That was all I knew. I stayed for three days, and those three days changed my life. I sat in a circle with thirty inmates, twenty volunteers and three survivors of violent crime.
     Over those three days, we talked openly and honestly, not about crime, but about harm. Restorative Justice brings together perpetrators, victims, and the community to heal the harm caused by crime. This was vastly different from my experience as a lawyer who had spent thirty-five years in criminal courtrooms. In those courtrooms there was precious little concern for the victims, the accused, the families, and the community, all of whom were affected by the ripples of harm that spread from the crime.
     Restorative Justice has become the primary focus of the Prison Ministry Project. We have done a version of the program I saw in Green Bay in prisons around Wisconsin, and more than a thousand male prisoners have participated in these programs.
     Next month we will start a new chapter in our Restorative Justice program. After eleven years, we will begin our first group for women. The reasons that we have not done women's groups before are complicated and have a lot to do with the nature of prisons in Wisconsin. There are 21,933 male prisoners in Wisconsin and 1,586 female prisoners. There are 34 male correctional institutions and only three female institutions. But now we have been offered the opportunity to do a pilot program for women and that will require us to think deeply about our approach. With men, an important focus of the group has been to help them understand the ripples of harm caused by their crime. Women in prison probably already understand those ripples. It is very likely that they themselves have been victims, and they feel keenly the separation from their children. As one woman explained, "My going to prison was child abuse." As a result, our focus in the women's group will be more about self-esteem.
     Stay tuned. 
~ Jerry Hancock
     If you would like a firsthand account of our Restorative Justice program, check out The Circle Keeper by Betty Hasselkus and Susan Heneman. 

Posted on August 14, 2018 at 10:34 am in Featured Content.

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