Restorative Justice Advocacy
One of the key roles that Christians can play in promoting social justice is through participation in restorative justice. As noted on the Christian Reformed Churches website; “restorative justice is a biblically based view of criminal justice that attempts to engage victims, offenders, and the affected communities in bringing about deep and lasting solutions by focusing on restitution, restoration, healing, and the future. At its core, it’s about relationships.
The CRC has been formally involved in the issue of restorative justice since 2005 when synod encouraged “the active participation of churches and church members in restorative justice efforts.” The CRC has developed many resources on the topic which can be found at: http://www2.crcna.org/pages/osj_restorativejustice.cfm. Individuals, small groups, or churches can join in this important effort to fulfill God’s command, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8b
What Churches and Their Members Can Do
Here are some suggestions for what you and your congregation can do to practice restorative justice:
- Distribute the report on Restorative Justice from the CRC’s synodical study committee to your congregation. Gather in groups to discuss the report, or invite committee members or those engaged in restorative justice to speak to your members. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for speaker recommendations.
- Are you a pastor or church educator? Preach or teach about restorative justice. Hold an adult Sunday school or education hour that examines restorative justice. Highlight Restorative Justice Week, the third week of November (visit our web site for material).
- Form a Restorative Justice Committee and have its members plan and coordinate restorative justice activities for the church. Have them report on their progress in bulletin inserts or church newsletters. Encourage the committee to network with other churches, classes, denominational agencies, or community organizations and agencies (Christian or secular), and to inform a classical contact person or OSJHA about its efforts.
- Stay informed: Use the information on OSJHA’s web site on restorative justice: www.crcna.org/justice/issues/restorativejustice/index.asp?IssuesMenu. Sign up for the OSJHA’s Advocate newsletter and the Justice eReport from Justice Fellowship (of Prison Fellowship Ministries): www.justicefellowship.org. Consider signing up for electronic newsletters from groups like the Center for Public Justice (US) www.cpjustice.org, Citizens for Public Justice (Canada) www.cpj.ca, Church Council on Justice and Corrections (Canada) www.ccjc.ca, and the International Prison Chaplains’ Association www.ipcaworldwide.org.
- Join the listserv on restorative justice created by OSJHA.
- Voice your opinion! Speak about restorative justice issues. Write articles and letters to the editor and your legislators about restorative justice.
- Help shape public policy. Call upon policymakers to do away with unfair policies and the economic and social inequalities that contribute to crime or that make the criminal justice system so unjust. Highlight political candidates’ positions on restorative justice issues. Promote laws, policies, and programs that help to prevent crime, rehabilitate prisoners, offer alternatives to incarceration, provide assistance to crime victims, etc.
- Pray for prisoners, ex-prisoners, prisoners’ family members, chaplains, correctional officers, crime victims, and those who work within the criminal justice system. Ask them for specific prayer requests, and communicate their prayer requests to individuals or groups in the church who are willing to pray for them.
- Compile useful information on resources. For example, survey your community and document resource people, organizations, churches, funding, etc., related to restorative justice efforts. Create a referral guide of organizations, agencies, or programs in the community that can help prisoners, ex-prisoners, families of prisoners, and crime victims.
- Work in your community to prevent crime, assist victims, and help with restorative justice efforts. Participate in efforts like neighborhood watches, community development organizations, crisis hotlines, neighborhood shelters, community advisory boards, and programs for at-risk youth. Support efforts such as community policing and probations, drug courts, transitional housing, work release, victim-offender mediation, alternatives to incarceration, rehabilitation services for prisoners and ex-prisoners, and crime victims’ assistance programs.
- Contribute money to organizations (secular or Christian) that work for restorative justice. Set up a fund in your church budget for restorative justice projects.
- Provide elders, deacons, and other interested persons with special training in working with prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and crime victims. Encourage members to sign up for training from organizations like Prison Fellowship Ministries.
- Organize worship services or Bible studies for prisoners with the help of the chaplains or other correctional staff.
- Contact jail or prison wardens and chaplains to ask what programs need volunteers (e.g., programs for job training, literacy education and GED preparation, English as a Second Language classes, Twelve-Step groups, etc.) Volunteer to help out.
- Visit prisoners if the institution allows it. Become a pen pal to prisoners.
- Volunteer to serve as a mentor for prisoners (before release, if the institution allows it) or for ex-prisoners after release.
- Call, visit, and develop friendships with ex-prisoners and the family members of prisoners and ex-prisoners. Become a “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” to a prisoner’s child. Offer to “stand in” for an incarcerated parent at events that a prisoner’s child attends.
- Provide help that prisoners’ family members or ex-prisoners need: food, financial help, referrals to agencies, transportation, counseling, assistance in signing up for services or programs, accompanying them to court, etc. Encourage employers to hire prisoners’ family members and ex-prisoners.
- Invite former prisoners and family members of prisoners to your church services and activities. Encourage them to join your church. Encourage members to invite them to their homes to eat or to take them out to eat. Offer your church as a place for support group meetings for prisoners’ family members or ex-prisoners.
- Participate as a church in Prison Fellowship Ministries’ Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts to children of prisoners, given in their parent’s name.
- Highlight the needs of crime victims in a church service during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week each April.
- Call and visit crime victims. Assist in emergency assistance that crime victims need: financial assistance, food, protection, repairs, transportation, medical treatment, counseling, dealing with law enforcement officials and media, accompanying them to court, etc. Set up a fund in your church budget for victims’ needs.
- Refer victims to agencies that can assist them, and help them sign up for services.
- Encourage victims to tell their stories in victim support groups or other meetings, and to participate in restorative justice efforts such as victim-offender mediation, victim-impact panels, drug courts, sentencing circles, and plans for restitution or reparation.
- Encourage church members to practice restorative justice solutions in their homes, schools, and churches, emphasizing anger management, conflict resolution, development of coping skills, mediation of disputes, etc.
Compiled by Gail Rice, member of the Synodical Committee to Study Restorative Justice. Copyright © 2005, Christian Reformed Church in North America. All rights reserved.