RJ pioneer Howard Zehr addressing audience during a visit with C4RJ (left); annual visit of Nigerian Judges organized by the UMass Center for Peace, Democracy and Development (center); School Climate Specialist, Nancy Riestenberg, at a C4RJ (right).

How the Circle Process Works

We “Run in Circles”

At C4RJ, we use the “circle” process which takes cues from indigenous approaches to wrongdoing. In many cultures, sitting in a circle is both functional and symbolic. Everyone can clearly see everyone else, and each person is valued and has an important role to play (there’s no “head of the table”). What takes place in the circle remains confidential so that participants can have an honest exchange about the harm. All volunteers sign a confidentiality agreement and each person who participates in a circle (as responsible party (RP), victim/impacted party (IP), or supporter) is charged with confidentiality too. Here’s a basic outline of the circle process.

Referral: C4RJ receives a referral, usually from a police department or district attorney's office, of a case in which an RP faces criminal charges. Police will have already presented the restorative justice option to those affected by the crime.

Intake: C4RJ meets with affected parties: IP, RP, family/supporters, and community members to learn about the incident and resulting needs and to prepare everyone for the circle process.

Opening Circle: At a time and place of the IP's choosing, C4RJ convenes all the affected parties, community volunteers, and a law enforcement officer. The RP tells the story of what happened, the IP speaks about the impact of the crime, and the group works towards a plan of repair by consensus.

Agreement Phase: The RP pairs up with C4RJ volunteers who offer support as the offender works to meet the obligations agreed upon during the Opening Circle, which may include letters of apology, restitution, service, and reflective exercises.The IP may also request progress reports or updates.

Closing Circle: The group reconvenes approximately two or three months after the Opening Circle. The RP reflects on what s/he has learned, and the IP and other community members acknowledge the work done. If all are satisfied, the matter is closed and returned to the police.

If you’ve been affected by crime and wish to learn more, click here. To learn more about what to expect as someone who’s caused harm, click here.

C4RJ produced a film about our work called "Finding Courage: Addressing Harm with Restorative Justice Circles." Click the video to watch a 15-minute clip about restorative justice and the circle process.