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Dr. Pointer publishes new Restorative Justice book

Dr. Lindsey Pointer, assistant director of the National Center on Restorative Justice and an assistant professor at VLS, recently published her second book focusing on restorative justice practices.  

Published by Routledge, “The Restorative Justice Ritual,” considers the following key questions:

  • How is the personal and relational transformation apparent in the restorative justice process achieved? What can be done to safeguard and enhance that effectiveness?
  • Can restorative justice satisfy the wider public’s need for a reaffirmation of communal norms following a crime, particularly in comparison to the criminal trial?
  • Given its primary focus on making amends at an interpersonal level, does restorative justice routinely fail to address larger, structural injustices?

To learn more about the book, check out the video of a virtual book launch hosted by The National Center on Restorative Justice, or see this Q&A with Dr. Pointer:

What inspired you to write this book?

Dr. Pointer: My background is as a restorative justice practitioner and when facilitating restorative justice processes, I often noticed the ritualized features and how the social space created by the experience felt similar to that created by other rituals. This makes a lot of sense because other justice responses are highly ritualized as well. If you consider, for example, the court process. It is full of symbolism and a set structure for the way things are done. It is quite common for humans to ritualize processes that we use in times of grief, uncertainty, and fear to provide a clear way forward, so it is natural that these rituals exist to deal with the aftermath of crime. Noticing the ritualized nature of restorative justice encouraged me to look at the process more closely through the lens of ritual theory to see what could be discovered, so the research grew out of that curiosity.

The other main driving motivation was that in the restorative justice field, there is a significant body of research demonstrating that restorative justice works to decrease recidivism, increase victim satisfaction, repair relationships, provide opportunities for community dialogue and healing, cut costs, etc. This research has been instrumental in gaining the buy-in needed to implement programs and pass legislation. However, there is a lack of research exploring how restorative justice works to achieve those positive outcomes. At this point in the growth and expansion of restorative justice, it is very important that we develop a better understanding of how the process works so that we can safeguard, and perhaps even enhance, its effectiveness as it is increasingly adapted for use in new contexts. Drawing on the insights of ritual theory allowed me to develop a theory to explain how the restorative justice process works to achieve those positive outcomes as well as offer practical guidance for facilitator, policy-makers, and advocates to safeguard and enhance its effectiveness.

Who is its intended audience?

Dr. Pointer: The book will be of interest to students, educators, and researchers in the restorative justice field, but as a practitioner myself, I also made sure to make the key takeaways of the book relevant to restorative justice facilitators by making specific practice recommendations. This information is also relevant to policy-makers and restorative justice advocates as they consider the best way to expand restorative justice implementation.

What do you hope its readers will learn from it?

Dr. Pointer: I hope that readers will gain a deeper understanding of how restorative justice works and will have the opportunity to consider some of the most pressing current questions in the restorative justice field through the lens of understanding restorative justice as ritual. For example, the most important question, in my opinion, currently being discussed in the restorative justice field is if, given its primary focus on making amends at an interpersonal level, restorative justice routinely fails to address larger, structural injustices. I would say yes, it does, and there is certainly more we need to do to address this significant shortfall. But understanding the restorative justice process as a ritual also helps us to see how the process itself has contributed to the expansion of restorative justice from a specific justice mechanism to what is now best understood as a social movement that aims not only to provide a transformative experience for individual, but also to transform the broader systems and structures that cause harm.

Is this book a follow-up on your first book, “The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools: Games, Activities, and Simulations for Understanding Restorative Justice Practices,” or is it something entirely separate?

Dr. Pointer: My first book is about another topic I am passionate about: restorative pedagogy and how we can teach restorative practices in a way that is in alignment with restorative values. My co-authors and I offer games and activities as a great way to teach restoratively because they allow you to approach the teaching role as a facilitator, much like how you approach facilitating a restorative justice conference. Through setting up the experience, establishing trust, and holding space, you can create an environment in which the students build relationships and learn from each other. It can be a really equalizing experience that challenges the teacher-student dichotomy and helps to break down the classroom hierarchy. A restorative classroom or training space needs to promote the building and strengthening of relationships, be highly experiential, and encourage honest and reflective conversations about important social issues.

There are certainly points of overlap between the two books, especially in relation to how to create the type of social space that allows genuine relationships and constructive conversations to occur, but ultimately they are on two different topics.  

How has the national and even international conversation around restorative justice changed, if it has, since your first book?

Dr. Pointer: Since I first entered the restorative justice field in 2012, I’ve noticed public awareness of the term “restorative justice” as well as interest in this approach steadily increasing, which is wonderful to see! My first book was published in early 2020 and I would say that the sense of hopefulness around restorative justice as a viable alternative in a justice system in dire need of reform has grown even more in this past year as more and more people come to grasp the harm caused by conventional justice approaches.