Peacemaking Program

Peacemaking is a traditional Native American approach to justice that focuses on healing and restoration rather than punishment. Although peacemaking varies across Native American tribes, it generally brings together the disputants, along with family members, friends, and other members of the community to speak about how the event, crime, or crisis affected each person. The goal of peacemaking is not only to resolve the immediate dispute, but also to heal the relationships among those involved and restore balance to the community.

The Center for Court Innovation peacemaking program is being piloted at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, in Brooklyn, New York. Conceived by the Center’s Tribal Justice Exchange, the peacemaking program uses traditional Native American practices to resolve disputes that originate in either the justice system (in the form of a court case) or in the community. Peacemaking sessions, which are facilitated by trained peacemakers from the community, are designed to enable those affected by the dispute to “talk it out” and reach a consensus agreement for restitution and repair. In court-referred cases, the agreement is put on the record in court. Depending on the unique circumstances of each case, one or more peacemaking sessions may be required to reach a consensus agreement.

How It Works

Referrals: Referrals to the peacemaking program come from a variety of sources, including the local prosecutor, defense counsel, and the probation department. The program also accepts referrals from community members who are involved in disputes that have not entered the formal justice system. Eligible cases include school bullying, truancy, minor assaults, shoplifting, and many other issues. The program will accept both first-time offenders and those with prior criminal records.

Requirements for Participation: Participation in the peacemaking program is voluntary. In cases involving victims, the prosecutor is responsible for explaining the process to the victim and obtaining the victim’s consent to proceed with peacemaking. The victim is invited—but not required—to speak with the program staff to learn more about the process and decide whether to participate in the peacemaking sessions. With consent from defense counsel, the program staff also meets with the defendant and explains the peacemaking process.

Sessions: The peacemaking program trains community members to lead the peacemaking sessions. During peacemaking sessions, participants are encouraged to bring family members, friends, and others who were affected by the dispute. All participants are treated equally, and all are allowed to speak about how the event, crime, or crisis affected them personally. The goal is to reach a consensus to resolve the dispute and heal the relationships among those involved.

In the News

  • The Red Hook peacemaking program received a grant from the Kindle Project of the Common Counsel Foundation.
  • To prepare for and plan the peacemaking program, the Center’s Tribal Justice Exchange hosted a roundtable discussion with peacemaking experts from tribal communities around the country, as well as state court practitioners. To read more about the roundtable discussion, please click here.
  • The Tribal Justice Exchange visited the Colville Tribes’ Peacemaker Circle Program to observe a peacemaking session. To listen to a podcast interviewing the Anna Francis-Jack, Peacemaker Administrator, please click here. To listen to a podcast interviewing two peacemakers and a current client, please click here.
  • During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Red Hook peacemakers chose to push ahead with their training despite some significant hardships. On November 16-17, 2012, two peacemakers from the Navajo Nation traveled to Red Hook to lead a two-day training. To watch a short video about the training, please click here. To read more, click here
  • DNAinfo.com and the Red Hook Star Revue report on the launch of the peacemaking program in Red Hook.
Featured Research

Publications

Red Hook Peacemaking Program: A Different Voice

Red Hook Peacemaking Program: A Different Voice

By Erika Sasson

A description of the Peacemaking Program at the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Published on the Kindle Project blog in March 2013.

Read the Original Blog Post

Publications

A Different Approach to Justice

A Different Approach to Justice

By Erika Sasson

This article describes Native American peacemaking as an alternative to the Canadian justice system's "overreliance on punitive and isolationsist tactics." Published in Policy Options, February 2013.

Publications

Widening the Circle: Can Peacemaking Work in Non-Tribal Communities?

Widening the Circle: Can Peacemaking Work in Non-Tribal Communities?

By Robert V. Wolf

A guide for justice planners seeking to adapt Native American peacemaking to a non-tribal setting. After providing an overview of peacemaking, the report outlines key issues jurisdictions will most likely want to consider during planning and implementation.

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