Restorative Justice pioneer Howard Zehr visited C4RJ and shared his photography exhibits: "When a Parent is in Prison" and "Ladder Without Rungs," featuring portraits and stories of children of prisoners and victims of severe violence, respectively (right).

Inquiring Minds: Frequently Asked Questions

You probably haven’t been through anything like this before. We understand you may have a lot of questions. Here are a few that we hear most often from victims, and some responses. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you can’t find the answer you need.

Do I have to participate in the program?

No. The restorative justice option is entirely up to you. Discuss your options with the referring police department. If you opt out, we respect your choice completely.

I don’t want to be in the circle, but I don’t want the Responsible Party to go to court either. Can the Responsible Party have a circle if I don’t participate?

Yes. You may request that someone represent your interests and ask questions for you in the circle, or ask us to have a representative in the circle for you. If you wish to be informed about the outcome, either in an ongoing way, or at the conclusion of the process, we will contact you with reports.

What will be expected of me?

Very little is set in stone and we wish to offer you as much flexibility as possible. If you’re interested in pursuing restorative justice, you can participate fully (by doing an Intake interview with us and by attending the Opening and Closing Circles), or partially (e.g., by appointing a representative). C4RJ can discuss a wide range of options that suit your schedule and preference.

How much will it cost?

The restorative justice process is available free to you. (The Responsible Party will be asked to pay a $250 administrative fee; however, if this fee impinges upon his/her ability to pay you restitution, C4RJ may negotiate a lower participation fee.) If participating in the process impacts your finances in other ways, please let us know.

Do lawyers participate?

The parties referred to restorative justice are encouraged to consult with attorneys if they wish. However, attorneys do not typically participate in the restorative justice process. A police officer will be present at both the Opening and Closing Circles. If you have questions or concerns about this, please let us know.

Will the Opening Circle be uncomfortable?

This may be the first time that you’re sitting with the Responsible Party. As such, you may feel a little uneasy at first. But the process is designed to be respectful and honest. We offer a safe space for discussion of harm, needs, and repair. You will have a chance to prepare for the Opening Circle at your Intake meeting, and you should feel free to ask for a break at any time during the circle.

What should I say?

The Opening Circle will be a time for you to tell the story of the harm, how you were affected, what “ripple effects” you’ve felt in your life, and what you need now. The Responsible Party may have little sense of how his/her choice affected you. Remember that it’s also okay to say nothing, or very little. If all you want to say is, “I’m angry,” that’s fine too.

What kinds of things are appropriate to ask for by way of repair?

Each circumstance — and each person involved — is very different. To be “made whole” can mean restitution (e.g., to cover repairs), more information from the Responsible Party (e.g., asking, “Precisely where did you go in my house?”), an apology — written or verbal — or service directly for you or at a community service site. Feel free to talk through what you want and need at your Intake meeting.

Can I back out mid-way through?

Yes. You may withdraw for any reason. If you feel your needs aren’t being met and you prefer to revisit other criminal justice options, please let us know. We will make every attempt to adjust the process to better suit you, but if we are unable to do so, we will refer the case back to the police. If your schedule changes and you can’t attend an Opening or Closing Circle, we will try to accommodate and/or offer you an option to appoint a representative to express your wishes.

What happens if the Responsible Party doesn’t complete the plan of repair?

C4RJ is diligent about holding the Responsible Party accountable. If s/he is not following through on obligations, we will consult with you on your wishes and your level of patience. If all attempts (usually in a three-strikes format) fail, we refer the case back to the police for possible court action.

What’s a “victim representative”?

One of your options — if you prefer not to be involved directly, or if your schedule doesn’t permit it — is to appoint a victim representative to express your wishes during the process. This could be a person of your choosing (a family member, co-worker, neighbor), or someone in our ranks who is trained in this role. Ultimately, we hope this process responds to your needs.

Who has to know about this?

Our process is confidential. Each person who participates in the circle, including you, agrees to keep to themselves what they hear in the circle. We will share information with people outside the circle, such as employers or school personnel, ONLY if you request that we do so and other circle participants agree. There are some rare but important exceptions to confidentiality. 

What happens if the Responsible Party completes all obligations in the plan of repair?

Completing the restorative justice process generally means that the Responsible Party understands the impact of the harm s/he caused, that s/he has taken concrete steps to do right by you and the community, and that s/he has learned something in the process. If this occurs, and you are satisfied, the referring police department will likely not pursue criminal charges against the Responsible Party.