In this written dialogue Why me?’s Lucy Jaffé and Sula Blankenberg reflect on their experiences at the European Forum for Restorative Justice’s 11th International Conference, the workshop they presented: ‘Exploring restorative justice across language and culture,’ and lastly the pre-conference training led by Dominic Barter.

The conference underlined the importance of European solidarity and support in asking our Government to explain and demonstrate how they are going to meet their commitments made in the Venice Declaration on the Role of Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters at the Council of Europe (2021) meeting in Venice, December 2021.

A shorter version of this article was previously published on the website of Why me? under the title: Power, Privilege, and Collaboration: Reflections from the EFRJ Conference on 15 July. 

Hearing about restorative justice policy in other countries was a prime opportunity to learn from each other, to collaborate globally and to motivate each other to campaign for change.
Training with Dominic Barter in Sassari

1. How did the conference go?


The pre-conference training with Dominic Barter set the stage for the European Forum for Restorative Justice (EFRJ) conference perfectly. My key takeaway being that ‘message sent doesn’t mean message received,’ meaning that we must check for understanding (‘what I hear you saying is/what I understood was’) and clearly identify what we heard. Feeding this back to someone will ensure that you have understood what has been said and given the person an opportunity to add or clarify anything. This was helpful learning, especially in the context of working with people with different language needs, as language and culture amongst other things may act as a barrier to understanding. Slowing things down and giving time for the opportunity to really hear and understand each other is crucial.

Being part of the EFRJ conference was a great opportunity to listen, learn and share what restorative work is being done in many different countries and contexts. It was also fascinating to discuss how Restorative Justice, or the concept of justice itself, is perceived in different places and embedded in policy, and how ‘the public’ finds out about the services available to them.


« image: Training with Dominic Barter in Sassari


Hearing about restorative justice policy in other countries was a prime opportunity to learn from each other, to collaborate globally and to motivate each other to campaign for change.

I had the opportunity to speak with representatives from Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands, who all have state-funded restorative justice. In other countries such as the UK, the sector is a mixed economy of state and non-governmental organisations. The conference was a real affirmation for me that restorative justice works.

While restorative justice models varied across countries, one thing remained consistent — the passion. This was well demonstrated by the Italian Minister of Justice, who spoke about her commitment and delivery of restorative justice in a truly inspirational way. We all have a passion for restorative justice, but it is clear that strong leadership is needed at national and international levels to implement policy and funding.

Restorative justice has to include community and be rooted in community.

2. What did you bring to the conference?


Lucy and I presented an 80-minute dialogue session on Project Articulate, a UK-based project aiming to widen access to restorative justice for people who speak different languages than the ones primarily spoken in the country in which they live. The workshop was intended to deepen our understanding of how cultural differences play out in restorative justice and how these differences affect how people with additional language needs receive information on restorative justice, access services in their area, participate in the restorative justice process, and take ownership of that process. We were also generously supported by Ingrid Marit from Belgium who shared a case involving participants with additional language needs which involved a translator. Working together with Ingrid is a really great example of international collaboration.

I feel as if we were able to create the space to facilitate important discussions on key themes such as language, culture, community, awareness, and training, and add to the learning of Project Articulate by having people reflect on this work and place it in their own restorative contexts.


Restorative justice has to include community and be rooted in community. Why me?’s workshop on exploring restorative justice across language and culture with participants around the globe was an opportunity to share our knowledge and learning from the UK and also learn from our international colleagues.

Our European counterparts had a low number of cases involving non-native speakers. Through conversation, it became clear that the reason fewer non-native speakers are receiving restorative justice is because of issues upstream with referrals and communication about the service. Moreover, the need to establish levels of trust so people feel as if the service is theirs may not be happening, but community groups are well-placed to change this.

3. What did the conference do for you?


Platforming the voices of people who have been through restorative justice was a powerful and useful reminder to us professionals of the importance and potential of restorative justice.

Having survivors of terrorism speak about their own personal experiences and also of coming together to speak about their journeys was incredible. In addition, Ailbhe Griffith’s testimony was powerful and important, sharing her belief in the transformative nature of restorative justice and how it should be made available to all victims of crime, regardless of the type of crime. This chimes strongly with Why me?’s work in supporting individuals to speak out and tell their stories to change the world.

In addition to lived experience voices, the conference really emphasised the importance of international collaboration — especially in regards to policy. We were able to learn from other contexts about how to make system change, get support and confidence to make the argument for Restorative justice, and aim for global agreements which can then influence national decision-making. A prime example of this is the Council of Europe Venice Declaration which commits the UK Government to a national restorative justice action plan. Why me? have been campaigning for a UK national action plan on restorative justice since the last plan expired in 2018. We hope that this would make restorative justice accessible to all victims — which is our organisation’s core mission.


Through the training with Dominic, I was able to engage in some interesting conversations about the role of power and privilege in the restorative context. When it comes to accessing services, practitioners and key stakeholders need to understand the privilege of asking for help and physically coming to specific locations where services are placed. Asking for help is hard, especially asking services that might be perceived as not having your best interest at heart, or that might be associated with other services by whom you have previously been marginalised (police, probation etc.). Therefore, we must acknowledge those barriers to accessing services that are present before the process even starts, and make sure we can provide additional support if need be, as well as be flexible to the needs of the people with whom we are working.

Discussions about power, privilege, and race continued throughout the conference. During Jonathan Scharrer’s workshop, we talked about how the biases of discretionary decision makers (law enforcement, Youth Offending Teams and family services, prosecutors, judges) in the justice system continue to systematically marginalise community members at every stage of the criminal justice process before restorative justice is even offered. Looking at when restorative justice is offered and how it is offered to black people compared to their white counterparts highlighted the need to have effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place to collect data in order to prevent restorative justice programs from replicating the same systemic harms as the traditional legal system.

Contributions to this discussion from some of the few black people present at the conference were key as we were able to provide valuable insights and contributions based on our own experiences and the creative lens through which we see the world.

For me, the conference emphasised the importance of checking our privilege. Placed in a so-called ‘post-colonial’ context where the majority of practitioners in this field (specifically in the UK) are white, checking our privilege is extremely important. What is it about the way we look or the way we speak that may perpetuate negative power dynamics that can further exacerbate feelings of oppression? In many cases, due to the lack of ethnic and linguistic diversity amongst staff in services, representative support isn’t always available. In these cases, of course, this issue should be addressed, but in the meantime, just being aware of this privilege and potential power dynamics allows you to play an active role in balancing these dynamics.

When it comes to accessing services, practitioners and key stakeholders need to understand the privilege of asking for help and physically coming to specific locations where services are placed.

4. How will the conference influence what we do next?


A lot of the learning from the conversations we had will contribute to the outcomes of Project Articulate in terms of the good practice guide and checklist we are going to develop. These outputs will ultimately explore and highlight what facilitators/practitioners, supporters, service users, and translators/interpreters, need to better support themselves, and people with additional language needs. They all have an important role to play in the process and we need to continue doing the work to better understand the needs of these key stakeholders. It is also crucial to do the work to understand better the language and cultural barriers that people who have additional language needs may face when accessing services like restorative justice in their area.

Throughout my work on Project Articulate and conversations at the EFRJ conference, it is clear to me that we need to be working more with the community and asking ourselves ‘What work is already being done? What resources or models are already out there? How can we work together? What do they need?,’ A community is a representation of the people within it and there are so many influential and supportive leaders within a community that could incorporate restorative practice in what they do, promote the process to others, or even become involved in the work themselves as community advocates or facilitators. In saying this, we need to apply a trauma-informed methodology when working with the community, especially with people with additional language needs who may come from minoritised backgrounds.

Derived from discussions from Nikki Glass’s presentation on ‘Restorative practices through an anti-racist/cross-cultural lens,’ my biggest takeaway was the idea of meeting people where they are which essentially means to really consider the socio-economic, political, historical, and cultural context within the community and how to effectively meet them in the spaces in which they feel most comfortable. restorative justice is a needs-based approach so being flexible in order to meet the needs of the people we support is key. By asking service users questions like ‘Where is best to meet you? Is there anything I can do to help?,’ we can slowly help build trust and begin to close the gap to accessing and participating in services like restorative justice which is very much there, especially for a lot of minoritised communities in the UK, including those who have additional language needs.

In the restorative setting, having practitioners that look like you, speak like you, and people with whom you can identify with can be the biggest difference in having a more meaningful restorative process.
Restorative Communities Plenary in Sassari


Listening to, learning about, and sharing what restorative work is being done in many different countries and contexts can, and should, enable us to improve the restorative justice field and make it more open to diverse people. I am motivated to collaborate even more and think about how we can add to the work already being done, and avoid duplicating work. There is an endless need for restorative justice, and the only way we’re going to spread the message is by collaborating together around the world and within our own countries.

I am even more determined that Why me? champions the voice of people affected by crime and conflict so that the UK Government meets its obligations under the Venice Declaration. It is particularly important that we address the power structures that occur when we are highlighting these voices, and ensure that we are platforming these voices for the right reasons.


In the restorative setting, having practitioners that look like you, speak like you, and people with whom you can identify with can be the biggest difference in having a more meaningful restorative process. I wouldn’t be able to reflect on the conference without acknowledging the lack of diversity at the EFRJ conference. Although discussions on race and systemic and institutional harm were covered in some parallel workshops, including Jasmyn Elise Story’s on ‘System aware restorative practices: invitation for action for facilitators of justice processes,’ Dominic Barter and Mara Schiff’s session on ‘Unleashing the transformative possibility of restorative justice: New narratives of language, power, and politics,’ and Elena Funcia Lemme and her colleague’s session on ‘restorative justice in Latin America: experiences of implementation challenges for development,’ in front of a wider audience, it was disappointing that it took until the last plenary session ‘Roundtable on restorative communities’ for the lack of representation both in the room and within our field to be addressed, which Jasmyn Elise Story articulated so well.

The topic of race and equality is prevalent in all of our work around the world and we need to be focusing conversations on how we can do better to support people from different backgrounds to engage more in restorative justice and feel represented by the people that work in the field, not only in terms of race but also in terms of age, gender, religion, disability, class. On an international scale, countries have different relationships within their communities and different historical traumas are present in this multicultural setting. This makes it even more important to use the scale and platform of the EFRJ to hold the space for these discussions and reflections to take place and make it more of a common thread throughout.


Sula made this point well. There was a real lack of diversity in the audience. It was noticeable that the audience was predominantly white and this reflects the UK situation where there is a lack of representation of groups who are marginalised. This is an urgent priority for the restorative justice sector to address to ensure that the restorative justice we are practising and advocating for is designed for and by all communities of interest.

There was also a lack of representation of young people at the conference, however, there were great sessions on restorative university courses and also Restorative Universities which are pointing to the need to nurture the next generation of students. Student circles and restorative models for addressing sexual harm on campus were two examples, as well as engaging with restorative course design with Ian Marder and David Karp. These ideas and approaches will feed Why me?’s scoping project which is reviewing the curriculum content of university criminology courses.

5. In conclusion

Lucy and I had an amazing time at the conference, and it was great to hear about the innovative work being done around the world which inspires us and Why me?. The wonderful conversations, thought-provoking discussion, and dedicated people will stay with us forever. However, it is really important to acknowledge the fact that there were voices missing and continue to be missing throughout the work we do in this field. We as a collective need to do better at inviting, including, highlighting, incorporating, and collaborating with those voices. These should be the next steps moving forward for us all to think about, ‘What can we all do to make sure that those voices are a part of the work that we do and that they are included in the conversations that we are having?’

Lucy Jaffé is the Director of Why me?

Sula Blankenberg is a Restorative Justice Development Officer at Why me?


Council of Europe (2021). Venice Declaration on the Role of Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters.