Education in Prisons
In many places, restorative justice options are available pre-charge, or pre-sentence, and perhaps upon release in a reentry program. But many prison systems do not offer restorative justice opportunities while incarcerated.
Prisons in the US tend toward harsh conditions and unhealthy relations within them. Teaching the basic principles and practices of restorative justice inside a prison setting could enable accountability, better communication, and greater understanding of relational obligations. We envisioned benefits to prison culture if restorative practices were widely known and practiced.
We delivered a restorative justice course at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) during the fall 2021 semester for women incarcerated in the facility. Over seven sessions, participants were introduced to the philosophy and practice of restorative justice and explored how restorative justice could be implemented in the prison setting. The aim is to integrate restorative practices into correctional protocols and, over time, influence prison culture to be more supportive, communicative, and positive.
As we refine the curriculum, we will offer a handbook for other correctional facilities interested in adopting restorative approaches inside their prisons/jails. We continue to meet with participants from the first cohort to collaborate on a proposal for integrating restorative approaches in CRCF. We are in the process of refining the curriculum, and the course will be offered again in fall 2022.
“[I have learned] real accountability within myself. I have carried with me this fight over being here (in part) for a law I did not break. But I had not recognized the harms I have caused because I was so focused on what I had not done. I want to be part of a positive change, to help grow a restorative culture because that’s the way I can start to repair or make amends for my own harms.”
– Class participant