Restorative Justice for Communities, Schools and Businesses

angola dixon business communities deanna shoss racial equity circles restorative justice schools Oct 15, 2019

Restorative Justice for Communities, Schools and Businesses

By Deanna Shoss for Executive Diversity Services

In his book, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr, a leader of the Restorative Justice movement, defines it as “a process to involve those who have a stake in a specific offense and collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations…to heal and put things as right as possible.”

The central idea is that crime (or conflict, depending on the setting) causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm. Therefore the people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution. And it acknowledges that those affected include not only the victim, but the accused and often the community at large.

“Restorative practices are needs based, community driven approaches that promote inclusion, connection, learning and accountability,” says Angola Dixon, an ordained energy healer and owner/founder of Seattle based Circle Pulse, an experiential company specializing in Restorative Justice, Energy and Peacemaking.  “A Peacemaker works to ‘make peace’ by reconciling parties who are disconnected, disagree or engage in conflict.”

And Dixon has been doing just that as a trainer and facilitator in schools, communities and with businesses across Seattle and King County.

 Restorative Justice for Community Building

As a past leader in the Non-Profit Anti-Racism Coalition (NPARC) in Seattle, Dixon was involved in leading grant-funded racial-equity circles in Seattle. NPARC supports organizations in practicing institutional anti-racism. The community Racial Equity Circles “allowed people to sit in a circle and talk about race in a way that gave everyone in the circle a voice,” says Dixon.

A “talking piece” is central to the process. It is passed from person-to-person around the circle, and only the person with the talking peace can speak. “It’s an exercise to get people to listen deeply without the need to respond. There’s no interrupting. It’s less of a discussion and more a practice in active and reflective listening,” Dixon explains. “What did you hear this person say? You get chance to say what you thought was said, and the other to respond–did they get it right? It’s back-and-forth and reflective.”

“Talking about race for some can be a trigger,” says Dixon. “There can be lots of trauma connected. And many people don’t know how to start a conversation around race.” For the community Peacemaking Circles, people had the opportunity to meet with homogenous groups first to work on their own pain, issues and biases before coming together in interracial circles. “Ultimately the goal was to bring the community together and to collectively address issues of institutional racism. The Peacemaking Circle process gave everyone who wanted to participate a voice in that process.”

 Restorative Justice in the School System

Restorative circles also have been used in the classroom to lower suspension. In 2018-2019 Dixon coordinated Transformative Practices at Nova High School in Seattle, facilitating Racial and Health Equity Circles. In Spring 2019, her Teen Health Needs Assessment is helping Nova design a new teen health center, opening Fall 2020, focused on LGBTQ+ and POC health.

Dixon has worked in schools through the window of professional development, where schools provide training for teachers so that they can lead restorative circles in their classrooms. “Nova High School has a strong culture of inclusion and tolerance,” says Dixon. “Students committees such as the People of Color Committee, the LGBTQ Committee and others are leading the way in how they want to interact with staff and promote school safety.”

Dixon found that teachers wanted to use the practice but weren’t sure if they were doing it right. “The training gives teachers a tool for building community and resolving conflict in their classrooms.” As part of the training Dixon advocates for ongoing circles for relationship building to prevent conflict before it happens.

 Restorative Justice in the Juvenile Court System

The myth is that restorative justice replaces harsher consequences. In Seattle it is the King County Prosecutor’s Office that decides which cases are eligible for restorative justice. Participation in restorative justice programs is voluntary for all participants. It involves a basic, three-step process: first, a meeting with the person charged and his or her support persons; then, a meeting with the person who was harmed and their support person; and, finally, a meeting of all the people impacted by the incident.

“This is not just about talking. This is about accountability,” says Dixon. “It recognizes that offenders need to heal. Victims get a chance to be heard and healed as well.” It’s a very specific, facilitated process. And once an agreement on restitution is reached, if the offender doesn’t follow through, “they would go through the regular criminal justice system as though restorative justice never happened,” she adds.

But restorative justice does appear to reduce recidivism, particularly with juveniles. A study from Sam Houston State University in Texas showed that “restorative justice programs, such as victim-offender mediation and community impact panels, are more effective in reducing recidivism rates among juvenile offenders than traditional court processing.” Another report from the US Department of Justice also suggested that “some restorative justice programs—when compared to traditional approaches—can reduce future delinquent behavior.” That report cited that it also produced greater satisfaction for victims. (Read more about the King County Restorative Justice Program here.)

 Restorative Justice for Businesses

“Restorative circles allow you to have deeper relationships among team members,” says Dixon, who has facilitated this approach at company retreats, for team building and conflict resolution. She sees the restorative circle approach as a path to change the way people interact with each other.

“In business we’re taught to be impersonal to be effective. Restorative justice focuses on relationships first as a healthy way to have compassion and lead you to bigger community success.”

Reprinted with permission from