Everyone in the circle is equal. The only person that can speak is whoever is holding the feather. The meetings are opened with a prayer by the Keeper, and they are also closed with a prayer. A Justice Center research team in Kake, Alaska observed their community’s adoption of Circle Justice for 18 months. The team’s research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
There was one case where six high schoolers in the town of Hastings put a homemade bomb at their vice principal’s door. They pleaded guilty to arson and property damage in court. The expected number of people to attend the circle was 70, and the time estimated for the meeting was more than four hours. A judge that attended the circle would decide the sentence if the circle couldn’t agree on one.
In an article on the front page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune in August of 1998, a county attorney named Jennifer Fahey made the statement that “In the criminal justice system, all we can do is punish” (Jennifer Fahey, Mille Lacs County, Minessota, County Attorney). The Justic Circle is “a safe, if not sacred place where people feel comfortable enough to open up and talk about what happened, the emotional impact, ask questions and show concert for the offender and his family” (Mark Umbreit, director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Mediation, University of Minnesota). Mark Umbreit also said that Circle Justice focuses on healing everybody and the process “demands real behavior change” (Mark Umbreit, director of the Center for Restorative Justic and Mediation, University of Minnesota), unlike jail.
Jeremy Boyd was 24 at the time when the article was written. He was an Ojibwe living on the Mille Lacs reservation. He pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals after strangling his sister’s cat because he was mad at her. His sister just wanted an apology from him. Jeremy Boyd was involved in Circle Justice. Jeremy Boyd’s sentence included building and installing 14 geese boxes on Lake Millle Lacs, going to an anger support group and fasting. He took 18 months to complete the sentence that was appointed to him.
Examples of sentences include community service, referral to special programs such as anger management, peer counseling, counseling for the offender and their family, curfew rules and restitution/compensation (I.e. replacing a window that they broke). Jail is a last resort.
As to agreeing with the theme “Justice should heal, not punish”, I haven’t come to a definite decision. I believe that jail hardens a person, and it doesn’t necessarily help them in the future to avoid crime. On the other side, Garvey had been to jail when he was younger and hadn’t he turned into a better person? I guess my overall opinion is justice should heal, not punish, but the person has to want to heal for it to work.
Circle Justice should be applied in mid-Maine, but I don’t think it would work very well. Just looking at people around me that commit crimes, I don’t believe they would want to heal and would think of it as a waste of time. The only way that it could work would be if there were people that really wanted to change. I’m not sure if there are enough people that would want to change around here.
Adams, Jim. “Circle Sentencing.” Freenet. 18 August 1998. Minneapolis Star Tribune. 5 July 2007
“Circle for Peace and Justice”. Beloved Community Photo Gallery. 18 November 2006.
Rieger, Lisa. “Circle Peacemaking.” Alaska Justice: Forum. 6 December 2001. University of Alaska Anchorage. 5 July 2007.
“Sentencing Circle: a General Overview and Guidelines.” Native Law Centre of Canada. Tracy Grohs, Yorkton Tribal Council. 5 July 2007.
**Tracy Grohs is not the author of the article, but the information I used came from her.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
After reading to Chapter 16 of Touching Spirit Bear, I became a little confused about the Circle Justice and wanted to research it more. Circle Justice begins when a criminal pleads guilty in court and agrees to accept a sentence imposed by their community. People that attend the meetings can range from teachers, friends, family or just anyone in the community interested in helping the offender. The goals of Circle Justice include making the community safer, satisfying the needs of the victims’ and giving the offender skills to avoid crime. Minnesota was the first state to use the justice of circle sentencing.