The nation's criminal justice system is, in some ways, triangular: A judge sits at the top, presiding over criminal charges brought by the state against an individual. Crime victims often are left out of the deal except as witnesses who might offer testimony at trial or an impact statement after a conviction.
Restorative justice proponents are much more partial to circles. Society, they say, often becomes safer when communities, crime victims and members of the community sit down together, discussing what happened and how to fix it.
They say criminals can learn empathy and develop a shared vision of what it means to live in a community. Victims can be part of the discussion about how to turn a wrong into something right.
This approach has been gaining local traction in recent years, with youth diversion programs in the district attorney's office and with the Manitou Springs Restorative Justice Council, the Youth Transformation Center and other groups offering judges and school administrators options besides suspension, expulsion and imprisonment when faced with misbehavior.
The Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council, a new group comprised of local restorative justice practitioners and advocates, is taking shape to help develop and encourage new alternatives across the region.
Perhaps it's no surprise the group sat in a circle at early meetings as members tried to articulate and agree on an appropriate vision. Starting in October, David Chorpenning, founder of the Manitou-based Center for Visionary Leadership, worked with members to develop their mission statement. The process now is nearly complete.
The Independent talked to Chorpenning about his role with the PPRJC, the importance of a group's mission statement and insights in his new book, Everyday Visionary.
Indy: Can you describe your work with the PPRJC?
DC: The first part of the process was having dialogue ... to help people to really understand, what is it about restorative justice that is important to them? How did people see changing the criminal justice system? [What are] their visions for how it can be different? We have collected those ideas ... and we've come to probably within 90 percent of a shared meaning about a purpose for the PPRJC, and a vision for the council.
Indy: How do groups spend time discussing vision when there's often a drive just to start doing something?
DC: In any group like this, you have the people that I refer to as the visionaries those are people who like to look at the big picture and then you have the people who are more actionary. Those are people who are sitting in any meeting like this and going, "I don't need the big picture; just tell me what to do."
So we've spent part of the meetings addressing the purpose and the mission, and then we've spent part of the meeting discussing, what are projects that will begin moving this forward?
Indy: A lot of groups don't have clear mission statements ... how does that affect their work?
DC: Individuals and groups have a hard time really connecting to the core purpose or the organization they're part of, and being on the same page where it's headed. It's a very common problem. Most organizations decide you need to have a mission or vision statement. So they go through a process so they can get something in writing that they can put over the door or on their letterhead. However, they don't do what I would say is the more important process of getting people to buy into the purpose and the future the organization is heading toward.
Indy: How is it related to volunteerism and community involvement?
DC: What kind of contribution do you want to make to society? To the world? I encourage people to once a year, but minimally once in their life, to really go through a process of finding out, "What is their passion?" From there, think about the future. Making a social contribution is always a part of it.
Unless people go through that, I call it the visioning process, they're just not as likely to really know what that passionate social contribution is. If they go through the process, when they do volunteer for some cause, it's going to really resonate for them, and they are going to bring a lot more of their time, energy and resources.