One of the things I did over the winter break was try to find some new material for my class on Advanced Issues in Criminal Justice. I came across two interesting movies on restorative justice that I had not known about and that I am planning to use in different ways in my class this spring.
The first is a 35 minute documentary, “Burning Bridges,” which shows a conferencing circle that was used in Pennsylvania in 2005. Six young men, all in their early 20s with no previous criminal record, burned down a historic covered bridge in a small town in Pennsylvania and were charged with arson. This bridge was an important part of the town’s history and identity. As a result, the public reaction was strong against these young men. The restorative justice conference included community members and the young men and their families. This well done documentary moves quickly and does a nice job of explaining how the restorative justice process worked and showing key parts of it (the whole conference was taped). I think it will be a good resource to use in class to show what a restorative justice process can look like in practice. It is short enough that it should easily work to use during one day in class as there will be time to both show the film and discuss it. The documentary is not strong in terms of explaining how the process fit into the criminal cases themselves, but the organization that put the documentary together was very quick to respond to my questions so I have a little more information for when I use the film in my class. I’m happy to forward along what I learned to anyone who might be interested. The DVD is available for $38.00 from the International Institute for Restorative Practices: www.iirp.edu .
The second movie is a 2011 feature film from Australia called “Face to Face.” It is available from Amazon.com and Netflix (and no doubt a number of other places). It is based on a play written by an Australian playwright, David Williamson, and the play in turn is based on actual restorative justice conferences in Australia. One of the reviews of the film compared it to Twelve Angry Men. It is similar in that the movie shows a restorative justice conference from beginning to end and is a highly condensed dramatic account of the process (as Twelve Angry Men is for jury deliberation). There are a number of flashbacks to help illustrate what is going on with the various people in the film. The restorative justice conference is held as part of the criminal process and through this process the criminal case could be resolved. As the DVD blurb explains:
“The story is about a young scaffold construction worker who is charged with assaulting his boss. By the end of the film, all our assumptions about guilt and blame are turned on their heads. As 10 people sit in a room discussing the turn of events that brought our protagonist to breaking point, twists and surprises reveal that all is not quite as simple as it seems.”
This hour and half film is too long to show in my class this spring. There are some scenes that could possibly be used on their own to illustrate specific points about how restorative justice processes can work. Instead of showing just pieces of it, I have decided to use the film as an out-of-class assignment, requiring students to watch it and write up a film review. I will require that students follow a particular format for the film review so they will need to analyze the restorative justice process itself (not simply look at the dramatic value or quality of the film). In addition to the length, another reason the film may not be as appropriate for use in class is the liberal use of profanity and some limited violence. I’ll be advising my students of this in advance and giving the option of an alternative assignment if requested. What I don’t know is how hard the Australian accents and slang will be for my students to understand.
Both these films do a good job of showing the raw emotion that can so often be present in restorative justice proceedings. They also both do a good job of showing the importance of good facilitation and how good facilitation includes preparation in advance of the conference itself.