Repairing Environmental Harm with Restorative Justice

RJGreetings Friends,

I recently sent an open letter to Colorado Governor Hickenlooper asking him to facilitate a discussion about using the principles and practices of restorative justice to repair the harm caused by the spill of toxic mining waste into the Animas River.

As a follow-up I’ve put down some thoughts related to what using the 5 R’s of restorative justice could mean in this and other environmental contexts. What came up are questions that could help guide a truly restorative process. I welcome your feedback and any discussion this may help generate.

Responsibility – What happened? What is the harm that resulted? How has the human community been harmed (physically, economically, socially, culturally)? Which individuals have been harmed and how? How has the environment, other species, and the ecosystem as a whole been harmed? What are the ripple effects of the harm?

Who is responsible? Who will decide who is responsible? Who is voluntarily stepping up to take their share of responsibility?

Why did this happen? What is the full context?

What are the contributing factors at the systems-level?

How do the people responsible feel about their actions now? What is needed to encourage more self-responsibility?

Respect – Is respect being shown to everyone involved? Are the people who caused the harm being seen as full human beings better than their worst mistakes? Are those involved showing self-respect?

What does respect look like in this situation? What limits respect? What support is needed to encourage more respect?

Relationship – How have interpersonal, economic, and social relationships been damaged? Why are these relationships important?

Who needs to be involved as support for those harmed and those responsible for the harm so that everyone can participate fully?

Repair – What does repair of the harm (personal, interpersonal, economic, social, environmental, non-human beings) entail in this situation? Who will decide what constitutes full repair? Can there be a consensus?

What has already been done to repair the harm? Do those harmed feel restored?

Have the ripple effects of the harm been addressed and repaired? Have the relationships been restored? Has repair occurred on the community-scale? Do the people who caused the harm feel restored?

Have steps been taken to ensure that an accident like this will not happen again? What systems-level changes have been made?

Is there more that needs to be done to repair the harm and, if so, what are some specific actions that can be taken? How can a process of restoration and repair be sustained over time (in this case, perhaps a very long time)? What structures need to be in place? Who will facilitate what?

What additional support (economic, material, psychological, spiritual, social/cultural) is needed to repair the harm when so much has been changed and getting back to “normal” may not be possible?

Can there be a consensus on an action plan? If there is no consensus on how to repair the harm, what are the options for moving forward?

Reintegration – Once a process of restoration and repair has been completed—understanding that this could take a long time—are those harmed willing to allow those who caused the harm to reintegrate back into society in a good way, without resentment or shame? To the extent that the answer is “no,” the harm has not been fully repaired. What additional repair and support is needed to get beyond resentment?

Are those who caused the harm, assuming they have repaired the harm, willing and able to reintegrate back into society without feeling shame and resentment? To the extent that the answer is “no,” the harm may not have been fully repaired. What is needed to get to “yes”?

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