There is much in this website about how RP is used and works, so that isn’t included here. However, the fundamental issues that it addresses are certainly worth understanding, and these can be found in the many tribal cultures where the precursors of RP started, many centuries ago. There is not a single ‘inventor’ of RP, and the approach amongst most practitioners and organisations promoting RP these days is share and share alike- there is an ongoing process of development, adaptation for new purposes and overall evolution which keeps RP fresh and relevant, and the RP community open and vibrant. We’ll never know for sure exactly how the traditions originally evolved as the story is lost in time, but considering the nature of the various cultures and the necessities of their circumstances, we can make some informed judgements based on the fact that is still relevant today- RP works. Here they are:
Consider living in a tribe some thousands of years ago. Most tribal groups are around 150 individuals or less, and the people within them have to provide everything that the tribe needs; food, water, shelter, security, childcare, transportation. Life is harsh and most are lucky to see 40 years of age. Within a group of that size, composed of a range of ages and about equal numbers of males and females, inevitably problems will arise. Young males are the most troublesome, and whoever has transgressed, the tribal elders have the job of seeing that justice is done and the tribe continues to thrive.
Given that there are only 150 people, ejecting an individual from the tribe is not a good option, especially since the young males to whom this is the most likely to happen are also the fastest, the strongest, the best hunters and warriors, and are themselves part of families who are not wrongdoers but who would be harmed by an ejection. Young warriors could also pose a threat to the elders if completely disenfranchised. No, rejection by the tribe is likely to harm the group too much to be acceptable in all but the most extreme circumstances. A solution is required where wrongdoers can be shown the harm they have caused, make amends, and be reintegrated in a way which enables them to continue to live and work in close proximity to their victims without issue.
Here we find that some form of convergent social evolution led peoples from North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere to devise similar approaches. A group of peers and those affected gather to discuss the incident with the wrongdoer, focusing on the deed itself (rather than the doer) and how it affected others. The aim is to find a way to repair the harm and avoid having to eject the wrongdoer (remember that being ejected from the protection of the tribe would not have been a happy holiday for the individual concerned). There is plenty of incentive to succeed on both sides, as well as the benefit that once the wrongdoer understands the harm and distress caused first hand, re-offence becomes significantly less likely. By following a traditional, structured process with clear stages and language, peoples the world over found it possible to have extraordinary conversations which repaired and strengthened relationships and communities and held their societies together even after terrible incidents. The same structures were also used to build and strengthen the bonds in the community in order to avoid issues arising to begin with.
Societies and technologies may have changed, but humans are still physically and emotionally just as we were back then. The foundations of Restorative Practice were laid centuries ago, but refined, revised and retuned to suit the 21st century, these ancient methods still work effectively, and far more effectively than some of the more recent methods devised to tackle the same issues, whether we are building a community or repairing harm. By using RP you will be carrying forward a social tradition older than written history that is still astonishingly effective today.