We suspect you may have a lot of questions. Here are a few that we hear most often, and some responses. Please don’t hesitate to if you can’t find the answer you need.
Q: Do I have to participate in the program?
A: No. This is a voluntary process. After committing a crime, you may have fewer options in front of you, but this is one of them. You cannot be coerced by anyone to participate. We’ll offer information for you to consider with your family, an attorney, or anyone else who matters to you.
Q: What will be expected of me?
A: If you choose the restorative justice option, you’ll be asked to take responsibility for your part in the crime. (If you’re disputing the charges, this may not be a good option for you.) The victim may have questions for you. You’ll be expected to be honest and respectful. You’ll also be asked to take concrete steps to make right by those you’ve affected. Each plan of repair is different and is decided by the circle process.
Q: How much will it cost?
A: C4RJ charges a $250 participation fee to the one facing criminal charges. This helps cover administrative costs of the program. If you cannot afford this fee, please let us know at your Intake meeting. No one is turned away if they cannot afford the fee. You may also be required to pay financial restitution to a victim or institution. If the criminal charges include substance-related matters, you will be asked to undergo a substance assessment with a professional counselor and to follow his/her recommendations; related costs are your obligation.
Q: Do lawyers participate?
A: Attorneys play an important role in the criminal justice system. People referred to C4RJ are welcome to consult attorneys but they do not typically participate in the restorative justice process. If you are disputing the police charges, a restorative justice option may not be a good fit for you.
Q: What's the role of my family or other supporters?
A: Your loved ones were probably affected by the harm in some way. Maybe your wife got the terrifying call from the police in the middle of the night. Maybe your parents are making accommodations in their schedule for the restorative justice process. Your family might be ashamed, angry, or inconvenienced. In this process, family members will be invited to participate as supporters of you. You may also be making repair to them for the ripple effects they've felt after the crime. Your family will not be answering for you. The focus will remain on your actions and what you're prepared to do to make right. Read here for more on our policy on parental participation and notification. In some instances, those facing charges have asked to bring other supporters (coaches, employers, neighbors, best friends); let your Case Coordinator know whom you would like to bring. If you're a young person, your parents may also be asked to help hold you accountable during the process (e.g. with a curfew, being watchful for other harmful behavior, etc.). This brief video clip describes the process from the perspective of a mother who participated with her son some years ago.
Q: Will the Opening Circle be uncomfortable?
A: Being held accountable may feel uncomfortable, but the process is designed to be respectful and honest. C4RJ personnel 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 at the circle, you should feel free to ask for a short break at any time. Many report that by the Closing Circle, they feel a sense of accomplishment and that they are ready to put the harm aside and move forward with head held high.
Q: Who has to know about this?
A: 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. If the program refers you to a counselor, the case coordinator will share information from your intake with the counselor. There are some rare but important exceptions to confidentiality. To read C4RJ’s confidentiality policy, click here.
Certain community service sites may wish to know why you are doing service. It will be up to you to share that information (or ask us to do so) or decide to perform service elsewhere.
Q: Will I have to talk?
A: Yes. During the Opening Circle, you will be asked to tell the story of when the harm took place, what you were thinking at the time, and what you’re thinking now. This will not be an inquisition, but your answers will help those who were hurt gain a better understanding. Beyond that, you’ll be asked what you’re ready to do to repair the harm. We’ll expect you to come with ideas to show that you’ve given it some advance thought. Review the community service sites as one option.
Q: Will I have to listen?
A: Yes. The Opening Circle may be the first time you hear how others were affected by the harm you caused. It takes courage, but we encourage you to listen closely and show that you’re listening, too. Eye contact with the speaker, sitting in an attentive posture, even asking questions are all important.
Q: Can I back out once the process has started?
A: We will explain the process thoroughly at the Intake meeting. If you need more time to consider committing yourself to the process, we encourage you to do that. Once you sign the Participation Contract, C4RJ and the referring police department expect you to see through your obligations. Backing out may harm the victim(s) further. So stick with it! If you do withdraw, C4RJ will return the matter to the police.
Q: Will the victim be angry?
A: Victims have a wide range of reactions when they’ve been hurt. Some are very ready to move on. Others can be very upset. C4RJ encourages victims to express whatever is on their minds. Their comments can be heated, but the process will be respectful.
Q: What happens if I don’t complete the plan of repair?
A: At the end of the Opening Circle, you’ll have signed an agreement that outlines the steps you’re taking to make right. It may include restitution, verifiable community service, apology, verbal or written reflection on a variety of themes/topics, regular contact with your "facilitator" (see below), and other repair developed by group consensus. If you don’t complete the plan of repair, you will be causing further harm to the victim(s) and your case may be referred back to the police. C4RJ also makes use of a three-strikes policy where minor slip-ups will be noted but repeatedly falling short of your obligations may result in us referring the case back to the police.
Q: What’s a “facilitator”?
A: Between the Opening and the Closing Circles, you’ll be working on your plan of repair. A C4RJ facilitator is a trained volunteer who provides support and encourages accountability during this time. Your facilitator will answer questions, help you reflect on your actions, and ensure you’re staying on track with your obligations. You will initiate contact with the facilitator weekly and meet in person at least monthly until the Closing Circle has met.
Q: What will I have to do for my agreement?
A: Each circle is unique; the participants consider the needs of the victims and the community as well as your needs and strengths. Most agreements include community service as well as written or oral reflections so that you can demonstrate what you have learned from the experience. An agreement might also require apologies to those affected and restitution if the person harmed has experienced loss or damage to property. There is no precise formula and some agreements can include very creative means of repair that use your skills and interests.
Q: What happens if I participate and complete all my obligations in the plan of repair?
A: Completing the restorative justice process generally means that you understand the impact of the harm you caused, that you’ve taken concrete steps to do right by the victim(s), the community, and your loved ones, and that you’ve learned something in the process. If this occurs, the victim is satisfied, and there aren't any other unforeseen circumstances, the referring police department will close the case.