The Healing Impact of Restorative Justice

As a former Milwaukee County Circuit judge and Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, I have watched people try to resolve highly emotional and upsetting conflict through the legal process or by use of (social) media. For the last 25 years I have become convinced that we need to offer hurting people restorative approaches—a forum in which each person can be truly heard, and their concerns addressed while managed by experienced and sensitive facilitators/mediators to help the parties work toward healing. As a result, our Marquette Law Andrew Center for Restorative Justice provides people, neighborhoods and institutions support for transformational restorative processes.

The recent death of Queen Elizabeth has brought the Royal Family together, albeit for a somber occasion. Nevertheless, this reunion has re-surfaced conflicts that appeared dormant (at least within the American news cycle) – specifically, those related to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. As we watch how the royal conflicts unfold, it seems that the Royal Family may benefit from restorative justice processes to begin mending their relational rifts now on public display. So, I posed a thought experiment to the students in my restorative justice class this fall: what should restorative justice within the Royal Family look like?

Students recognized location – a neutral one – as foundational to the success of any royal restorative justice endeavor. Several suggested Switzerland, because of its distance from the United Kingdom, its many secluded towns, and the country’s commitment to neutrality, peace, and refusal to involve itself in violent or pollical conflicts with other countries. Students also correctly recognized the importance of confidentiality and privacy to a restorative justice gathering of the Royal Family, especially considering the Family’s historic distaste for and disinclination towards any public airing of intra-family grievances is well known.

Finally, there comes the process, and most importantly, what to address and how to address it. Obviously there would be extensive preparation (including deep listening by the facilitators) before any gathering of family members. Practically all the students suggested dialogue as the procedural format, and that it be led by one or more experienced facilitators/mediators. After listening and talking to everyone individually or as a couple, the facilitator must work out an agenda for the first meeting. That agenda might include a discussion to the traditions of royalty and a need to maintain them as well as how those rules might govern Meghan and Harry as well as their children.  Students differed regarding which topics to address first, as well as which participants should hold the primary focal point. Some proposed that the entire family begin discussion centered on racism as its manifestation in the Royal’s Family’s treatment of Meghan Markle. Others urged a family-wide discussion focused on the treatment of in-laws in the Royal Family, while others thought that the topic should involve a discussion on addressing mental health issues. There also rose the proposal that a dialogue should begin attentive to the unique trauma of growing up in the Royal Family, and that perhaps the initial sessions be limited to King Charles III and his sons, Harry and William. Ultimately the agenda needs to be driven by the desires of the respective parties to a dialogue, with a commitment by all of confidentiality.

While any one of these procedures and topics could work for the Royal Family, what is most important is that the family members show up and open to truly hearing one another and to grappling with many of the sore truths that have historically and continually effected members of the Royal Family.  And here, the current family, led by King Charles III, may have an opportunity to shape their legacy and demonstrate profiles in leadership through dialogue and healing.

If you’re not registered, you may want to attend our October 11 ProgramThe Healing Impact of Restorative Justice: A victim mother shares her story.  And see first-hand the impact that restorative justice can have.

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Restorative Justice and Clergy Abuse

Several people sit in chairs in a "healing circle" discussing instances of abuse by clergy.My trip to Rome in spring 2016 triggered a return visit this past November, when I again taught a segment of a certificate program addressing the Catholic sex abuse scandal.

The Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection offers the four-month graduate certificate program to religious sisters, brothers and priests from around the world who are assigned to head up Protection for Children offices. The program goals: to teach how to deal with past abuse and prevent further incidents.

I spent a full day with 19 students representing four continents. While there were some language barriers to overcome, the group was able to comprehend the power of Restorative Justice (“RJ) presented in different contexts — particularly its value regarding sexual abuse within the Church.

I explained how in past clergy abuse cases, it is not often possible to bring victims and offenders face-to-face in dialogue because many offenders are in denial, deceased or too old, with limited memory. We, therefore, explored the hope that RJ offers in addressing “secondary victimization” by members of the Church’s hierarchy.

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Restorative Justice and the Language of Hope

Professor Janine Geske standing at a podium with an open laptop as she addresses an audience in Germany.Regardless of one’s language, Restorative Justice (“RJ”) translates as hope. That was evident from my experience in Germany last October at a conference hosted by the University of Göttingen, which was titled “Victim Orientation in the Criminal Justice System: Practitioners’ Perspectives.”

I was invited to be one of the keynote presenters at the two-day conference. My presentation to the attendees — most of whom were criminal justice professionals including probation and parole agents — addressed how the United States actively uses RJ processes within the criminal justice system. Oh, and my presentation was the only one in English, with real-time translation provided in German through the marvels of headset technology.

I have become used to speaking internationally, so the language difference is not a daunting barrier for me, especially given the immediacy of RJ as an understandable concept and successful tool. I described the process and impact of victim/offender dialogue sessions in cases of violent crime and the value of restorative circles, particularly for schools and community organizations. Although Europe does not have much experience in using circles, I could tell that the conference attendees were eager to hear more about that process and about victim/offender dialogues in the context of juvenile RJ. As usual, most of my explanations were told through the stories of actual cases. I know that by describing the poignant experiences of real victims and offenders, the audience will better understand the transformational experience of an RJ process.

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