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  • Sussex Pathways

My Observation of a Face-to-face Restorative Justice Conference

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

by Shirl Tanner, CEO

I was privileged to attend and observe a restorative justice (RJ) conference between a person named David*, who caused harm, and the family who were harmed by the loss of their family members.

It was evident during the three-hour conference held on 7th December that the scoping around the case was rigorously detailed. This was shown by the outstanding execution of the conference.

Toni and Rosanna, the RJ conference facilitators, had prepped both the harmer and the harmed family thoroughly, as well as the prison staff.

Once at the prison, Toni and Rosanna waited patiently for the harmed family to arrive. They were calm, settled, and grounded.

Once the family arrived, Toni asked everyone to sign-in at the gate, enter through the air lock doors and pass-through security. Toni and Rosanna were present throughout this process and kept the family at ease by answering questions, chatting, and offering any support.

Malcolm, from the Offender Management Unit (OMU), escorted everyone to the conference room through the prison. While guiding all visitors, he talked about the prison.

In the room, Toni and Rosanna proceeded to arrange the furniture for everyone's comfort and discussed where everyone would sit. Malcolm offered and provided everyone with tea, coffee, or water.

After ensuring everyone was comfortable and ready to begin, Malcolm left the room to collect David. Toni and Rosanna spoke with the family until David arrived.

At David’s request, Malcolm asked if it was ok for David to offer his hand when he entered the room. The family replied with a firm, “Yes”.

When David arrived, everyone shook hands and exchanged hellos.

Rosanna started the conference. She remained calm and spoke clearly. She read slowly and loudly because the husband, John*, was hard of hearing. Rosanna stuck to the arranged script which was set by the family.

When David was asked about what happened, David broke down in tears. Rosanna allowed him time to compose himself and to ensure he could talk openly. Rosanna was able to do this with every question. David was able to extend his condolences to the family and expressed that in his head he would be in prison for the rest of his life for what he did.

At this stage, John spoke up and tried to reassure David that the family didn't hate him. John conveyed that it was a tragic accident, a bad choice was made, and that David never set out to hurt anyone. This conversation was allowed to flow freely, and then Rosanna brought the conference back to the script.

There were tears from all participants from time to time.

With the same calm manner and tone spoken to David, Rosanna addressed each harmed person.

The family occasionally asked David questions, which David tried to answer as best as he could. However, because of the brain injury he suffered from the crash, he has no memory of the accident.

A graphic description of the crash scene was presented; John had found his wife in the road, after she had been thrown out of the car. Throughout the conference, the family only showed compassion to David.

Toni took over halfway through the conference. She was calm and had a lovely manner. She spoke with compassion to everyone.

Both facilitators excelled in this conference. Their patience and dedication during scoping was apparent from start to finish. Toni and Rosanna exhibited great composure and were not fazed at any time during the conference. It is a phenomenal achievement to facilitate an RJ conference that includes the person who caused harm and three harmed persons in the same room.

If ever there was a textbook conference this would be it. From the initial assignment of this case to the refreshments at the end of the conference, to the feedback, the facilitators and participants have been outstanding.

I have heartily suggested that both facilitators write this case up and use it as a case study to get an advanced level RJ facilitator qualification from the Restorative Justice Council (RJC).

I close with one word.


*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the participants.

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