2003 Symposium: Intentional Conversations about Restorative Justice, Mediation, and the Practice of Law
The mediation field has long viewed itself as distinct from the traditional legal profession. It has claimed to reflect a different set of underlying principles and held out different aspirations. It has sought to resolve conflicts and improve society - not merely settle disputes and close legal files. In short, the mediation field has aspired to go beyond the courts in providing a place for people to engage in social healing.
In recent years, there has been a growing sense that the field has lost its footing. Some argue that in its promotion of self-determination, mediation has lost sight of its potential for community building. Others argue it has become no more than another economic engine for lawyers and a settlement tool for courts. Given the fear that the mediation field may be losing sight of a core element of its founding vision and that it is being co-opted by the very profession it has sought to change, the third DRI biennial symposium considered whether the emerging field of restorative justice - with its emphasis on restoring victims, repairing harm, and re-weaving the fabric of communities - offers a place to re-connect with mediation's underlying values. Specifically, this symposium provided a setting where scholars and practitioners from the fields of restorative justice, mediation, and law can engage in meaningful dialogue about what restorative justice is and what the fields of law and mediation can learn from it, and how these three fields can influence one another toward a greater possibility for social healing.
Scholars and practitioners from each of the three fields of restorative justice, mediation, and law were chosen as the individuals to lead the conversation over two days. Symposium participants from the U.S. and Europe included prosecutors, theologians, law and graduate professors, community mediators, social justice advocates, Native American healers, defense attorneys, high school educators, judges, social workers, and restorative justice circle members. Collectively, we explored what constitutes the essence of restorative justice, as opposed to other notions of justice, and what the fields of mediation and law can learn from it. In addition, the conversation encouraged restorative justice advocates to critically examine their practices in the light of the experience of the mediation field. Finally, the Symposium provided an opportunity for all three fields to influence one another toward a greater possibility for social healing. Given the anticipated importance of the conversation, the Dispute Resolution Institute decided to record all the Symposium proceedings and prepare an edited version of the transcript for publication.
The published symposium proceedings include a brief context-setting introduction and ‘Post-Symposium Reflections’ as well as the edited transcript. In addition, it includes three essays authored by symposium theme leaders. In "Are 98.6 Degrees Enough?: Reflections on Restorative Justice Training and Credentialing," Darrol Bussler critically reflects on how training and credentialing relates to the sustainability of restorative practices in communities. In "Ritual Wisdom and Restorative Justice," William Everett explores the deep connection between law, ritual and symbolism, and asserts that to accomplish systemic change in the way society seeks justice, we must attend to the ritual and the symbolic dimensions of our practices. Finally, in "Healing Hearts or Righting Wrongs?: A Meditation on the Goals of 'Restorative Justice'," Ellen Waldman cautions us to remain open to the necessity of connecting restorative justice's aspirations with some of its shortcomings.
Articles published in the Hamline Journal of Public Law & Policy, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring 2004)