Encounter and Inclusion in Restorative Justice


The principles of restorative justice have long been a pillar of innovative approaches to conflict resolution, focusing on healing and reconciliation rather than retribution or punishment. The concept of “Encounter” and “Inclusion” in this paradigm represents an essential element, giving voice to marginalized communities while encouraging a dialogue that fosters mutual respect and understanding.

In this discussion, we will explore the foundations of encounter and inclusion, diving into their historical roots and contemporary applications. Prominent thought leaders such as Howard Zehr, Fania Davis, and John Braithwaite will be referenced to provide a rich tapestry of academic and practical insights. We will also delve into a case study that encapsulates these ideas in a real-world setting.

Historical Overview

The origins of restorative justice can be traced back to indigenous cultures and tribal societies where community-based dispute resolution was the norm. The notion of “encounter” here was more than just a meeting—it was a sacred space for storytelling and communal reckoning. Indigenous wisdom teaches us that conflict is an opportunity for growth, as emphasized by academics like Kay Pranis (Pranis, 2005).

Inclusion in the historical context was less about extending a universal invitation and more about ensuring that all relevant stakeholders—particularly the marginalized and dispossessed—had an authentic voice in the process. Contemporary scholars like Fania Davis articulate how these traditions intersect with issues like racial justice and social equality (Davis, 2019).

Encounter in Restorative Justice

Encounter in the realm of restorative justice refers to face-to-face meetings where victims, offenders, and sometimes community members engage in dialogue. According to Howard Zehr, often considered the “grandfather” of modern restorative justice, encounter aims to provide a framework that honors the dignity and humanity of all parties (Zehr, 2015). It’s not just about answering the question of what punishment is warranted but answering the deeper questions of who has been hurt, what their needs are, and who is obligated to address the hurt.

Inclusion in Restorative Justice

Inclusion in restorative justice goes beyond mere representation; it ensures that diverse perspectives are heard, considered, and integrated into the resolution process. Dr. Brenda Morrison, a leader in community and restorative justice, highlights that inclusion is not an endpoint but a continuous practice that allows the restorative justice model to evolve (Morrison, 2012). It acknowledges intersectional complexities, allowing for a more comprehensive view of justice that accounts for systemic factors like race, gender, and socio-economic status.

Case Study: The Community Circles Initiative

In a small mid-western town in the United States, a non-profit organization introduced “Community Circles” aimed at addressing youth offenses in schools. Drawing on restorative justice principles, the circles were a form of encounter that included victims, offenders, educators, and sometimes parents.

The inclusion aspect was diligently maintained by ensuring that students from diverse backgrounds, especially marginalized communities, were actively involved in both designing and participating in the circles.

Not only did this result in reduced incidences of conflicts in schools, but it also fostered a sense of community belonging and reduced the school-to-prison pipeline. This real-world application reveals the profound impact that encounter and inclusion can have in transforming conflict into an opportunity for communal growth.

Contemporary Insights

In the modern landscape, the digital era presents both challenges and opportunities for restorative justice. While technology can sometimes dilute the intimacy essential for genuine encounters, it also provides platforms for wider inclusion. The likes of restorative justice thought leader John Braithwaite are exploring how digital circles and online restorative justice initiatives can work (Braithwaite, 2018).

Conclusion: Academic Insights

The concepts of encounter and inclusion are not mere buzzwords but essential components of a restorative justice framework. They embody a forward-thinking, healing-centered approach that subverts traditional punitive measures. Engaging deeply with the works of contemporary scholars such as Howard Zehr, Fania Davis, Brenda Morrison, and John Braithwaite reveals a nuanced understanding that these principles are both complex and context-sensitive.

While the historical lens offers foundational wisdom, contemporary application, as seen through case studies and ongoing research, suggests that the future of restorative justice lies in its ability to adapt and incorporate these age-old principles in increasingly nuanced and inclusive ways. Thus, in the pursuit of a more equitable system, the constructs of encounter and inclusion will likely remain central to restorative justice discourse, shaping its evolution in academia and practice.