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Training Active Bystanders: a Foundation for Restorative justice

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August is a time for many of us to get ready for the new school year.  For us here at Quabbin Mediation, back to school means preparing another year of implementation of TAB (Training Active Bystanders curriculum, © 2014 Quabbin Mediation) in schools around our region.  This year, part of my preparation has been rereading Howard Zehr’s book on Restorative Justice (Good Books, 2002).  The connections between TAB and Restorative Justice don’t always get the presentation time they could in the TAB training that we do with students or adults.  But for people who have trained TAB for years, and for those coming new to TAB who are familiar with Restorative Justice principles and programs, there are fundamental connections between the two.

Restorative Justice has three central concepts.  The first is that restorative justice focuses on harm.  In the TAB curriculum, we start with the notion that harm can be defined in many ways and that it is important that the community provide the broad definitions of harm.  Thus, the notion of harm is defined and understood by communities of people rather than given a sterile definition by an institution.  This is significant in TAB because it is the recognition of harm that leads logically to how it can be interrupted – safely and effectively for the one being harmed, the one doing the harm and those who witness the harm.  It is a personal decision whether or not one can safely intervene – thus that person deciding must also understand the harm as completely as possible in the moment.  And that harm affects all of those involved – the target, the harmdoer, the bystander and the community.

Secondly, harm results in obligation in the restorative justice framework.  Within the TAB framework, the first obligation incurred when harm is happening, is the identification of that harm.  And often it is the active bystander who identifies that harm and takes the first step in meeting the obligation that is implied by the harm – to interrupt it.

Lastly, restorative justice promotes engagement.  The TAB curriculum is built on the notion that members of communities are interconnected, have obligations to each other and thus their engagement ensures that all members of that community are supported, protected and safe through their being a part of the community.  Engagement is at the heart of TAB. TAB promotes building strong communities through the engagement of morally courageous bystanders.

The TAB curriculum is a very tangible and concrete set of steps and skills that can be used to implement the ideas of restorative justice.  TAB teaches approachable and doable ways to build connected, supportive, and inclusive communities.

Susan Wallace is the Training Director at Quabbin Mediation 

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