Open Circle brings people together to collectively acknowledge and respond to experiences of harm. With careful preparation, Open Circle makes difficult conversations possible by providing opportunities for respectful dialogue. This can include giving voice to those who have been affected, sharing further information surrounding the harm, taking responsibility for the harm caused and exploring steps to be taken in the future.
Open Circle provides access to a restorative practice called conferencing. In the conferencing process, those affected by a crime or other harm can talk to each other. People who can take part include victims (or people harmed), offenders (or people responsible for causing harm), their family members, relevant community members and other people who have been impacted. The conference process can involve a face-to-face meeting or another form of communication, for example a letter exchange. Either way, the process is facilitated by a neutral person called a convener, who makes sure the process is respectful of and fair to everyone involved.
The conference process is:
Open Circle takes a flexible approach to the types of cases accepted for restorative justice conferencing. Referrers are encouraged to contact Open Circle for a discussion. Examples of cases that can be referred include, but are not limited to:
At Open Circle, our processes begin with a referral. If you or someone you know has been impacted by a harm, we encourage you to get in contact with us by calling 9925 4984 or 0428 134 736 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. One of the Open Circle team will be happy to speak with you about your referral.
People who have taken part in restorative justice processes facilitated by Open Circle staff have said:
“This is probably the most positive thing that we’ve ever had in some ways with regards to being heard.”
“I think it’s quite healing to hear another person’s story… to listen to another person’s story but also to tell your own story. And that’s in essence what happened. I feel as though I really had an opportunity to tell the story. But also I also got the opportunity to hear someone else’s story that I wouldn’t have heard.”
“Something has been faced up to, dealt with. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and confront things that hurt. I now know something about a person who was previously just a faceless defendant deserving of punishment. Knowing what he looks like, how he talks and how he feels helps me.”
“I think it was a very tough day. But I certainly do not regret doing it at all. I see it as something positive. Certainly, I feel it’s been positive for us.”
“Saying sorry will never bring [the deceased person] back, but [restorative justice] gave me an opportunity to speak and not make it out that I’m a cold-hearted person and I didn’t care, when I do care and I really appreciate having this opportunity.”
“We got different answers. We found out the background of the other person and the events that led up to the day, and that put some of our mind at rest and answered some questions.”
“[The other participants are now] real people to me and I feel as though we do have a bond with them…I think it’s feeling sort of a greater sense of peace maybe having met them and feeling that they don’t blame us as a family or just feeling that there is openness between the two families. Or there’s a connection and that it’s not sort of acrimonious.”
* These quotes are from people who participated in the CIJ’s Restorative Justice Conferencing Pilot Program for serious driving offences, which was a precursor to Open Circle. You can read more about the participants’ experiences and about the pilot in the report ‘It’s healing to hear another person’s story and also to tell your own story’: Report on the CIJ’s Restorative Justice Conferencing Pilot Program.
Lindi, whose brother was killed in a motor vehicle collision, was a participant in one of these restorative justice conferences. Here she speaks about her experience:
Open Circle’s team of restorative justice policy experts helps organisations and government to develop restorative practices that are tailored to their needs and priorities, and those of their clients and service users. Previously, the CIJ and Open Circle team have assisted the TAC, WorkSafe and RMIT University to design and implement restorative programs.
Open Circle also contributes to restorative justice research and thought. The Open Circle team is available to speak at conferences and events, and welcomes opportunities to collaborate.