Howard Zehr

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Howard Zehr has been called the grandfather of the restorative justice movement: the notion that justice can be about repair, responsibility and healing rather than just punishment. A retired professor from Eastern Mennonite University, Howard is an accomplished photographer and author who has published several books including Doing Life, a collection of stories and portraits of life term prisoners.

“I often talk about three core values of restorative justice: respect, responsibility, and relationship.”

“I think there’s a human need for balancing the score. There are negative ways to do that and there are positive ways. The criminal justice system tries to reinforce some important things, but it does so in a really negative way. It says, “You harm us, we’re going to harm you.” To mitigate that, we have to bring in other values. Inherent in restorative justice is a vision of how we want to live together.

I’d love to see restorative justice become the norm. I’m not terribly optimistic though it’s expanding at a great rate. There are huge obstacles, not just in our legal training but in our economic system. We have a whole economy based on the prison industry. They are not asking us to be less punitive. In fact, they’re out there lobbying for more prison beds to be filled.”

Howard Zehr Short Audio Clip

Howard Zehr Full Audio

Discussion Questions

  • How do you understand Howard’s words when he says, “I think the reason we exchange Christmas gifts and the reason we may want revenge comes from the same place.”?
  • What is your reaction to restorative justice? What are its benefits and its drawbacks?
  • Have you ever been part of a process similar to restorative justice? How was that process different than if revenge had been the primary motivator? If you’ve not been a part of a process like that, how do you imagine it would change your situation?
  • When is a time that you have forgiven someone? Why did you decide to forgive them?
  • How do you tend to respond when someone has wronged you? How could you alter that response to be more constructive?

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