In 2014 Healing Communities with the impetus of Shalom Community Church decided to devote a year of effort to bring restorative justice to Washtenaw County, Michigan. Healing Communities, founded in 2012, was a collaboration of people from different faith communities around Washtenaw County working to repair the harm caused by crime and the criminal legal system. Shalom Community Church, a Healing Communities member, introduced the concept of restorative justice. Shalom had begun the process of bringing restorative justice to Washtenaw County in the 1990’s. That effort fizzled, but they reignited their desire in 2011. Once the Healing Communities group of faith communities joined the effort, it took off.
Shalom is a Mennonite community. Restorative justice has been practiced by Mennonites for 50 years, although ithas been in use much longer – by indigenous communities in North America and on other continents. Shalom recommended a play called Tough Case, that demonstrates the use of restorative justice after a group of teenagers vandalize and steal things from an older woman’s house. After a restorative justice conference where the two parties came to understand each other better the woman was no longer afraid to live in her house and the boy returned items that had been stolen and repaired the damage he’d done. The play showed us a better way of responding to crime and healing from it than the way our criminal system usually responds. Healing Communities decided to focus entirely on restorative justice for the next year.
We learned restorative justice was already being used, although in a limited capacity, by Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Tim Connors in child custody cases. Judge Connors was sending cases to the local Dispute Resolution Center, a non-profit, to do as restorative circles. When 2014 was over we continued our focus on restorative justice and renamed ourselves Friends of Restorative Justice. We have continued to promote and educate about restorative justice. We have developed a relationship with Belinda Dulin, the executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center. This organization trains volunteers and uses paid staff to do restorative justice conferences and circles.
Today Washtenaw County is in a much better place with respect to restorative justice compared to when we started in 2014. It is being used by our county prosecutor, several of our judges, and the Ann Arbor City prosecutor’s office. Many people have been trained in facilitating restorative justice conferences or circles. We continue to push for extendingits use.