What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative Justice offers an alternative approach to finding resolution that focuses on meeting the needs of those who have been most impacted by an incident or crime.

Restorative Justice emphasizes:

  • Repairing of harm for victims

  • Offender accountability

  • Increasing community safety

Restorative Justice adds human connection into systems that typically rely on rules and punishment. 

Restorative Justice conferences nurture relationships between victims, offenders, families and community members, ultimately leading towards a stronger sense human unity for all. Most Restorative Justice models seek to encourage participants to convert a limited worldview based around isolation and individualism into a much more positive vision that is rooted in honesty, accountability, and connection.

Restorative justice approaches have been shown to reduce recidivism and cut costs associated with the juvenile justice system. 

Restorative Justice in Action at CRYJ

An alternative to formal processing, with the goal of effectively reducing recidivism through empathy development and deepened community connection.

CRYJ's Restorative Justice program provides Flathead Valley Youth who are currently, or at-risk of becoming involved in the Juvenile Justice System with community-based structured accountability.

The Center for Restorative Youth Justice works to actively engage youth, families, communities and systems in restorative programming that interrupts cycles of harm, juvenile incarceration, and other factors that lead to unsafe communities.

CRYJ’s programming was initially designed with the needs of juvenile offenders in mind – focusing on restorative justice practices and community support, we are now able to offer our services to all youth in need in our community – extending programming to provide proactive support to at-risk youth and families to prevent interactions with the juvenile justice system.

CRYJ’s Restorative Youth Justice Program includes:

  1. Restorative Family Conferences

  2. Restorative Agreements

  3. Community Impact Circles

  4. Accountability Letters

  5. Victim Offender Conference

Restorative Family Conferences

During this first meeting, CRYJ staff, teens and their guardians explore their relationships, connections, strengths, harm caused, and they work collaboratively towards developing a restorative agreement that defines how all parties will collaborate to move forward in positive ways.  

This is the first step in our Restorative Justice programming, designed to guide teens towards accepting accountability for the impact of their actions.


Community Impact Circles

Restorative Circles are a community process for supporting those in conflict. It brings together the three parties impacted by a conflict or crime to talk as equals – those who have acted, those directly impacted, and members of the wider community.

Peace-keeping and Talking Circles are a structured process used to bring people together to better understand one another, build and strengthen bonds and to solve community problems. At CRYJ, our Community Impact Circles serve as a restorative way of getting the most complete picture of whatever issue is at hand for youth and families, and to enable participants to explore values, establish goals for their future, and to expand their understanding of and connection to our community.

Through circle process we share our stories, learn about ourselves, each other and gain a better understanding and sense of empathy. Circle processes are used for decision making, problem solving and conflict resolution – including in schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, and in the juvenile justice system.

The purpose of peacemaking circles is to create a safe, nonjudgmental place to engage in a sharing of authentic personal stories and feelings. Anything that is shared is owned by each individual, and acknowledged by everyone that attends. The circle process allows participants to expand our awareness of our actions, our personal power, and to develop compassion within our communities.

Mark Umbriet describes community circles in his article “Peacemaking Circles” (Umbriet, 2008).

Peacemaking circles, talking circles, or healing circles are deeply rooted in the traditional practices of the indigenous people of North America, as well as from other parts of the world. They are widely used among the First Nation people of Canada and the hundreds of tribes of Native Americans in the United States. The circle process establishes a very different style of communication than most from European traditions are familiar with. Rather than aggressive debate and challenging each other, often involving only a few more assertive individuals, the circle process establishes a safe nonhierarchical place in which all present have the opportunity to speak without interruptions. Rather than active verbal facilitation, communication is regulated through the circle keeper or facilitator by passing a talking piece (usually an object of special meaning or symbolism to the group). The talking piece fosters respectful listening and reflection in a safe setting.

At CRYJ, we involve community volunteers as co-facilitators of the circle processes – representing the voice of our community as well as the voice and impacts of the victims or communities impacted by the youth who attend.

CRYJ’s Community Impact Circle facilitates dialogue between youth, their families/support people, community volunteers, and staff – exploring emotions, values, and impacts in a safe and supportive environment. As circles form, they invite shared power, mutual understanding and self-responsibility within community.

Accountability LetterS

Community Impact Letter are individualized aspects of Restorative Agreements at CRYJ. These letters encourage youth to reflect on their actions, take responsibility, and consider the impact of their actions on the community. Accountability letters also invite youth to consider how they can move forward from their current situation.


Victim Offender Conferences

Victim Offender Conferencing (VOC) –VOC is a restorative process in which victims and juvenile offenders sit down together, in a safe and facilitated environment with a trained impartial facilitator, to discuss the impact and circumstances of a crime, as well as options for addressing the harm that was done. Youth Court views VOC as a way to directly hold youth accountable in a forum that actively involves victims in the juvenile justice process, and in some cases resolves restitution disputes and restores victim losses in innovative ways that benefit all stakeholders, including community. Involved victims are given an opportunity to tell their story of what happened, ask questions, and obtain meaningful restoration and restitution. In addition, it gives youthful offenders an opportunity to take direct responsibility for harm they have done and an attainable means to give remedy and closure. For the community, VOC addresses the welfare of all of its citizens by creating conditions that promote healthy relationships that deter crime and promote a sense of community ownership within youth.