Healing the harm caused by crime
Restorative Justice (RJ) programs in prisons are concerned with healing the harm caused by crime. This is a wide and inclusive view of justice that goes beyond traditional ideas of crime and punishment and seeks to involve all of those affected by crime—victims, offenders, and community members—in purposeful discussions that explore and repair the harm.
The roots of Restorative Justice reach deep into human history and can be traced to indigenous cultures throughout the world. These cultures understood that harm ripples out to affect relationships throughout the community, and that thoughtful community dialogue is needed to restore trust, mutual respect, and balance.
Restorative Justice in prison allows us to take the stories of the men and women inside to the outside world and take the outside world to the men and women inside. Through sharing, caring, and purposeful discussions healing can take place.
Goals of Restorative Justice
The Restorative Justice Program
The Restorative Justice program is conducted in a group setting with residents of the prison and volunteers from the community meeting weekly for two hours for 10-12 weeks, but the heart of the program is an intensive three-day experience. Each of these days lasts four hours. On the second day, two victim-survivors share their stories.
For graduation, prison residents are asked to select one of their own to deliver a speech at the graduation ceremony. The graduation program also includes a speech from a guest speaker and a few words from some of the volunteers.
More than 1000 men and women have graduated from our three-month programs. The graduates leave the program with a greater sense of empathy and a real commitment to lead a life of integrity in whatever community they are in, even if that community is a maximum-security prison.
Reflections in a Year of COVID-19
In March 2020, Wisconsin prisons closed to all volunteer programs. In response, several volunteers wrote weekly reflections to stay in touch with the men, at Fox Lake Correctional Institution, who had just begun the Restorative Justice program. This effort continued through February 2021, and eventually, the reflections were shared with about 60 residents.