The Restorative Framework as a Pathway to Peace

by Kay Pranis 
Author, Little Book of Circle Practices


In August, 2018, I turned 70. Now it is 2019 and I realize I have been engaged with restorative justice for 30 years. The journey was never mapped or planned. It unfolded by its own logic. One of the joys of my work is the opportunity to be with young adults who are beginning their journeys and who offer so much hope because they are starting their journeys so much younger than I was and with so much more insight about the nature of this work. My understanding of the work I do has evolved significantly over the years.


For me the restorative justice framework was appealing around the ways that framework could be used to change communities, rather than for its application to individual experiences of harm and repair. My work in Brazil starting in 2010 exposed me to the concept of a Culture of Peace and deepened my sense of the potential of the circle process, in particular, to move us toward cultural transformation. I experience a meaningful conversation about a Culture of Peace in Brazil that I do not find in the US.


I believe that a Culture of Peace is a way of describing a culture in which all parts of the culture live well together. For me that includes the rocks and waters, plants and animals—every part of the interconnected community of a place.


For me the vision of restorative justice is a vision of living together in a good way. The emphasis here is on living together and on a good way. That means living in a way that attends to the well-being of each individual and the well-being of the whole. The collective needs to be aware of its impact on each individual and each individual must be aware of their impact on the collective. The well-being of everyone requires that everyone be treated with respect and dignity. It also requires that each person is valued for their unique gifts and that each person has sufficient autonomy to find their own purpose in harmony with the common good.


To create a community that achieves that vision I believe we will need to shift our habits and norms on several dimensions:

  • From separateness to interconnection and interdependence 
  • From external controls to internal controls
  • From deficit analysis to asset analysis, strength-based thinking
  • From hierarchies to self-organizing systems
  • From primacy of the mind and intellectual analysis to multiple ways of knowing and seeing
  • From individual expertise to collective wisdom
  • From having answers to not-knowing as a skill, having curiosity 
  • From human nature as the problem to human nature as the solution 


The restorative justice framework provides a compass for guiding these shifts toward living together well. The peacemaking circle process gives a concrete methodology for practicing the habits of living together well—so that we can internalize those habits and rely on them even when we are not sitting in circle.


These shifts—from separateness to interconnection; external controls to internal controls; deficit analysis to asset analysis; hierarchies to self-organizing systems; primacy of the mind to multiple ways of knowing; from individual expertise to collective wisdom; having answers to not knowing as a skill; human nature as the problem to human nature as the solution—are very hard work. They require an ability to look at everything with new eyes. Continuous self-awareness, feedback, reinforcement, and inspiration are necessary to make and sustain these shifts. And they cannot be done alone—community support is essential to making these shifts. We need each other.


A copy of Kay Pranis’ Little Book of Circle Processes was given to every monthly meeting and worship group in NYYM in 2017.