This section explains how and why this toolkit was created, provides instructions about how to use it, and explains why chosen language is used throughout.
A Diversion Toolkit for Communities emerged out of the need for publicly accessible information and resources on how to start restorative justice diversion (RJD) programs. The RJD program that sujatha baliga started in 2008 as a Soros Justice Fellow in Alameda County, California, has been successful at reducing recidivism, facilitating satisfaction among people harmed, and reducing social and fiscal costs, including reducing the criminalization of youth of color. Building on that experience, the Restorative Justice Project now partners with counties across the country to provide hands-on support to communities and systems partners implementing RJD programs. We are flooded with requests from community members, organizations, and systems agencies asking for guidance around starting RJD programs. The idea of an online toolkit emerged to meet many of these requests. We offer it in the spirit of evolving our training and technical assistance and collectivizing our resources to share widely and freely.
A common phrase used in our work is “restorative justice moves like water,” which describes how restorative justice flows through the world. This is the framework to guide your use of this toolkit. Restorative justice will flow into spaces that yield to it and are willing to receive it -- it will also flow around obstacles and can be powerful enough to forge its own path. Water represents flexibility and fluidity, characteristics you need to embody to succeed in starting a restorative justice diversion program. Water flows underground at all times, even when we cannot see it or don’t know it’s there, and when it bursts through desert ground, it creates an oasis. Restorative justice has this exact effect; it is nourishing, life-giving, and powerful all at once. As you guide yourselves through the steps of this toolkit, know that like water, there are drops, creeks, streams, rivers, even oceans of restorative justice already in your community.
Diversion from the juvenile legal system to a program that uses restorative justice can exist in many forms. Depending on how broadly one defines diversion, it can take place at many different points in the juvenile legal process, i.e. pre-arrest, post-arrest, or pre-trial. Some even believe it’s possible to divert post-incarceration, for example, from parole. Restorative justice is also described and practiced in many different ways (we explore this more in Step 1C: Restorative Justice). In this toolkit, however, the term restorative justice diversion is meant to describe a specific model. Our approach to restorative justice diversion has developed and evolved over decades with the primary aims of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in our criminal and juvenile legal systems, and orienting around people harmed, all while relying on the wisdom of families and communities to resolve conflict and harm. To that end, our model of RJD occurs at the pre-charge point of the juvenile legal system. The other elements of our model include relationship-building, prevent net-widening, being strengths-based, and protecting confidentiality. Our model will be outlined in-depth in Step 1D: Restorative Justice Diversion.
This toolkit was primarily created for community-based organizations (CBOs) interested in starting a restorative justice diversion program for youth in their county. While the toolkit is most applicable to the US, the core ideas and resources could be useful for people looking for alternatives to incarceration in other countries.
While it’s wonderful if you come to this toolkit with knowledge and experience of restorative justice, you don’t need to be familiar with restorative justice—that’s one of the things this toolkit and necessary trainings will help with. Step 2A: Program Fit provides a thorough assessment for you to complete in order to gauge whether your organization is ready and aligned with the values of the model. Some things to consider in determining whether your organization is a good fit for implementing a restorative justice diversion program are if your leadership and staff include people of color, LGBQ/TGNC people, and folks with lived experience with the criminal legal system, whether as survivors or as those who’ve been accused of causing harm. Your organization should also be trusted within the local community and be skilled at working with youth.
Whoever you are, we’re so glad you found this resource. Whether…
we hope this toolkit will serve as a beneficial and informative resource.
It is always exciting when restorative justice diversion is something that sparks interest in folks working in the juvenile legal system. If this is you, we suggest reading through the steps of the toolkit and even passing it along to community-based organizations in your area. CBOs must be the ones to lead the implementation of this restorative justice diversion program, and potential juvenile legal system partners can contribute by greenlighting, advocating, and opening doors for the program to succeed.
The Restorative Justice Project receives many requests from community-based organizations and system partners for support to launch restorative justice diversion programs; sadly, we currently lack capacity to partner with each community we hear from. Moreover, we’ve learned that much of the initial work to begin a restorative justice diversion program is best accomplished by local CBOs; we don’t want to be “outside experts” because the true wisdom, knowledge, and strategies for implementing a program in a community must come from the people who live there. This toolkit, then, provides the initial pieces of the technical assistance we offer to support community-based organizations to prepare to launch their own diversion programs.
Included in the toolkit is a step-by-step guide through the initial stages of implementing this model of an RJD program, including building and strengthening relationships with community members and organizations, getting buy-in from system partners, and setting up a case referral process. Also included are templates and materials for you to download and customize for your use. The toolkit directs you to external resources, such as Impact Justice-vetted organizations that offer recommended trainings such as Community Circle Process, Harm Circles, and Implicit Bias. After completing the toolkit and receiving the recommended trainings, the final step is to sign up for updates about attending a Restorative Community Conferencing (RCC) training from the Restorative Justice Project.
You’ve already started the toolkit process by reading this section! Finish reading this About section, then get started with Step 1: Establish a Foundation. There are tasks and a corresponding checklist in each step for you to complete along the way. Track your overall progress on Your Checklist page and the progress bar on the left side of your screen. The dots on the progress bar will be automatically filled in once you complete all the checklist items in a step. Step 3: Sign-up for Training is the final step of the toolkit; provide your contact information in order to receive information about upcoming trainings from the Restorative Justice Project.
We believe, in the words of Bryan Stevenson, that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” We would add to this that each of us is also more than the worst things ever done to us. To reflect this, we use the terms “person harmed” or “survivor” and “responsible youth” or “young person” instead of “victim” or “offender,” because we are all human and capable of transformation. We all deserve for our humanity to be the first thing recognized about us. We should not be defined by our actions or experiences when, at different times in our lives, we have all caused or endured harm. We want to allow for change and growth, not define each other by static events.
Former Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation, Robert Yazzie says that in Diné there is no word for “offender”; rather, they say a person is, “acting as if they have no family.” At a listening session around restorative justice held in British Columbia, Faith Tait from the Nisga’a Nation said, “We don’t have a word for offender in our language, the word we used means ‘un-healed.’”
Labels like “victim” also leave people fixed in time, and fail to make space for a person’s healing journey, and for the possibility that a person may ultimately find the victimization they experienced becomes an occasional memory, no matter how serious the crime. The label “victim” ignores the agency that restorative justice aims to return to those who have been harmed. However, “survivor” and “the person harmed” show that people can transcend something painful or unjust, or can be in the process of transcending harm.
We use the phrase “our model of restorative justice diversion” to describe the values, elements, and structure of our process. We would prefer to describe restorative justice as a way of life or a paradigm shift, and not with reductive terms like “model.” We acknowledge that in using the term “model,” we run the danger of limiting the expansiveness of restorative justice. At the same time, given the structural reality of current oppressive systems, we acknowledge that a structured response is necessary. If we were a fully restorative society, there would be no criminal legal system to divert from. Until that day, we offer a model steeped in our learnings and values while employing modern day tactics to begin a transformative shift in our society towards liberation.