In 2019, the people of Winston-Salem witnessed devastating and profound trauma in our community because of violence. These incidents have brought unimaginable pain and loss to the loved ones of those involved, with a ripple effect impacting friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates and others. If this pain remains unacknowledged, or confined to a limited space of acceptable displays of grief, that pain can silently become the seed that continues a cycle of violence and harm in our community. As we embark upon a new year, the people of Winston-Salem need to be asking what we can do to build a community that provides healing, peace, and ultimately, a safer community.

The strength of a community is determined by the strength of the relationships among the people in that community. How are we taking care of each other? How are we supporting each other? How are we handling conflict? How are we responding to injustice? Restorative Justice is a movement that empowers responses to conflict and injustice that promote healing and wholeness for individuals and communities. In his book Changing Lens, Howard Zehr says, “True justice cannot occur unless people and relationships are transformed into something that is healthy so the injury does not recur.” Restorative justice is justice that focuses on transforming and healing relationships.

How does restorative justice compare to our traditional justice system? Zehr summarizes it briefly by comparing the questions we seek to answer.

Our traditional justice system tries to answer three questions:

  • What crime was committed?
  • Who committed the crime?
  • How should they be punished?

Restorative Justice asks three very different questions:

  • What harm has been caused?
  • Who has been impacted by this harm and what are their needs?
  • Who is responsible for addressing the needs and healing this harm?

Restorative Justice recognizes the importance of everyone involved — the victim, the offender and the community that surrounds them. A foundation of respect for all people undergirds every interaction between those involved — extending compassion in a process that so desperately needs it. In a restorative justice process, victims are empowered to express their pain, identify their needs and meaningfully contribute their desires for the outcome. Offenders face the effects of the harm they have inflicted, and they are held accountable by taking an active role in repairing the harm they caused, to the extent possible.

The community serves an important role in the restorative justice process as well by acknowledging its responsibility to support both the victims and the offenders. The community surrounds both and finds ways to support the victims in their path to healing, and also support the offenders in their journey to a new, restored life as a valued community member. We can do this as individuals helping each other, but we also need policies and programs which uphold and encourage these types of responses in a systemic way.

Triad Restorative Justice is an organization based here in Winston-Salem that is working to build a more restorative community through advocacy, training and restorative-based programs.

The Juvenile Crime Prevention Council of Forsyth County is collaborating with Triad Restorative Justice in the development of two juvenile justice programs, RESTART and Impact Circles, that can provide this support for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Triad Restorative Justice is also building a network of volunteer facilitators to support difficult conversations in our community, encouraging the development of the relationships we need to have for the transformative work of restorative justice to grow.

If we take a step back to look at the bigger picture, we see that the community has a greater responsibility beyond the responding to incidents of crime. We have a responsibility to do everything possible to create a safe place to live. We have a responsibility to cultivate a space where all people in the community can thrive and grow. We have a responsibility to acknowledge the harm that we have caused collectively through social, economic and educational systems that benefit some while hurting others. With restorative justice, we have a framework to support a justice that promotes healing, accountability and safety. Are we ready to build that community here?

Make sure you never miss our editorials, letters to the editor and columnists. We’ll deliver the Journal’s Opinion page straight to your inbox.

Valerie Glass is the executive director of Triad Restorative Justice. The Rev. Robert Leak III is the board chair of Triad Restorative Justice.

Interested in learning more about restorative justice or becoming a volunteer? Visit TriadRJ.org or call 336-422-6450.

Load comments