Since 2005 we have been piloting a facilitated group reentry and transition planning process, Huikahi Restorative Circles in Hawai’i for incarcerated people and their loved ones. The Circles use solution-focused brief therapy language and restorative justice to address the needs of individual incarcerated people for desisting from crime and drug use.

The Circle process is self-directed by an individual incarcerated person who takes responsibility for addressing how they can meet their and their loved ones’ needs for reconciliation. How the incarcerated person might also make amends with unrelated people harmed, and who do not participate in the Circle, is also addressed.

An incarcerated person, her invited loved ones, and at least one prison representative, participate in a Circle. A trained facilitator and recorder conduct the process and prepare a detailed written reentry plan that will be provided the to the incarcerated person, and each household of the participants. Huikahi Restorative Circles: Group Process for Self-Directed Reentry Planning and Family Healing, European Journal of Probation, Vol. 2(2), 76-95, 2010, provides the process details and is available on line at: http://www.ejprob.ro/index.pl/huikahi_restorative_circlesgroup_process_for_self-directed_reentry_planning_and_family_healing.

Research of a small sample of 23 people out of prisons 2 years or more and their loved ones who participated in Circles, indicate the process is healing even when re-incarcerated occurs. The rate of repeat crime is also lower for people who have Circles compared to incarcerated people who don’t have them.

Criminal and substance abuse desistance is the well established phenomenon of people naturally outgrowing bad behavior without professional intervention. We know what factors increase the chances of criminal distance. The two most important are having relationship with law-abiding people, and having a meaningful way to make a living.

An excellent book describing desistance is Making Good: How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild Their Lives by professor Shadd Maruna who teaches at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland. Professor Maruna’s describes what he learned from studying and talking to hundreds of people who succeeded in desisting from crime and staying out of prison as well as those who relapsed and went back to prison. Besides having law abiding others in their lives along with decent employment, Dr. Maruana found that the people who do not re-offend had a “transformative experience” that they believe helped them in their efforts to desist from crime an drug use.

The Huikahi Circles provide an opportunity for an incarcerated person to describe and even develop a “transformative” story about their ability to desist from crime.

Being able to explain how one did bad acts, but is still a good person, is vital for preventing cognitive dissonance and is something that most of us engage in at some point in life. Psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson have studied this subject intensely and authored Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. The book describes:

“[H]ow all of us can learn to own up and let go of the need to be right, and learn from the times we are wrong—so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”

Restorative justice offers processes to learn from our wrongdoing, and helps everyone, including the people who have been harmed, a way to heal.

Giving people a way to address healing from the trauma caused by having a loved one who committed crimes and is incarcerated is necessary. It is especially important for children and for the parents of incarcerated people, and it is an healthy avenue to rehabilitation by giving incarcerated people the opportunity to tell their stories of transformation.