On June 19, 2013 the NACRJ was publicly presented to the attendees at the 4th National Conference on Restorative Justice hosted by the University of Toledo and the Lourdes University, Toledo, OH. The National Association of Community and Restorative Justice was created to serve as the parent organization for the biannual “National Conference on Restorative Justice”.
Three prior conferences were conducted had been conducted:
- 2007 at Shreiner University, Kerrville, TX (with nearly 200 attendees);
- 2009 at the University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX (nearly 250 attendees); and
- 2011 at Campbell University, Raleigh, NC (over 300 attendees).
Each of these early conferences was planned and organized primarily by a Local Organizing Committee lead by a Lead Organizer with support and assistance from a National Organizing Committee composed of prior conference organizers and prominent academics and practitioners. All those involved had a commitment to advancing restorative justice theory, values, principles, research and practice.
These early conferences were created largely by the Local Organizing Committee which sets the theme, identifies the presentation tracks, and creates a unique look and feel for the conference reflecting the local community and culture. In this way we hope attendees experience a rich, new and different conference each time. The unique character of our conferences is something for which NACRJ has become known. It is this character that seems to have contributed to the rapid growth in the number of attendees at each conference. In 2017 over 1,300 people attended 6th NACRJ Conference.
The original idea to form a new association came forward during the 3rd National Conference on Restorative Justice in Raleigh, NC. Members of the National and Local Organizing Committees met over dinner to discuss how to provide a legal home for the National Conference. The time had come to think about institutionalizing the biannual conferences that we had successfully conducted since 2007. During that discussion, it was decided that we would form a new national association rather than affiliate or join with an existing association.
Dr. Michael J. Gilbert of the Department of Criminal Justice, University of Texas at San Antonio and Lead Organizer for the 2009 National Conference on Restorative Justice was appointed as the Organizing Director and given the mission of creating a new national association. He recruited three other people to serve as the Organizing Board of Directors. They were:
- Dr. Fania Davis, Executive Director, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth;
- Professor Jon Powell, Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, Campbell University; and,
- Professor Joanne Katz, Department of Criminal Justice, Missouri Western State University.
Over the next two years they worked to form the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice (NACRJ). On November 2, 2012 NACRJ was incorporated in the State of Texas. An application for federal non-profit status was prepared, submitted and approved by the Internal Revenue Service.
Through the new association, we sought to provide a support system for reframing the concept of “justice”. It is a much broader concept than traditional legal systems. We sought to make space for different perspectives on the meaning of justice, what it requires and how it is attained. The broader meaning of “justice” concerns how people live together peacefully, harmoniously despite their differences. In this sense, justice is relational and rooted in several fundamental principles - fairness, balance, decency, respect, and dignity between people within their communities and the larger society. Ultimately, justice extends to the environment. It requires that harms and injustices be repaired or ameliorated, as much as possible, by those responsible.
Through the creation of the new association we sought to: (1) break the prevailing sense of isolation and marginalization that many practitioners and academics felt as they worked on relational justice (i.e., restorative justice and community justice); (2) facilitate networking and learning among those in the field; (3) provide web based resources on restorative justice and/or community justice; (4) advocate for policies and practices needed to create legal, social and political change supportive to broader application of community and restorative justice; and, (5) bring people together for biannual (or annual) conferences.
Early on, the organizers realized that people working in community and restorative justice fields needed access to a broad range of published resources. They decided to make an on-line collection of public domain sources available to members through the website. They also decided to provide access to proprietary academic literature by contracting with ProQuest for access to their academic social science database of full-text public articles. Access to these sources of literature was viewed as essential to the development of the field.
The 4th National Conference on Restorative Justice was held in Toledo, OH (June 19-21, 2013). The Lead Organizer was Dr. Morris Jenkins of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Toledo. He was assisted by Gina Paris, University of Toledo, Helene Sheets, Lourdes University and many others. Nearly 400 people attend the 2013 conference.
On June 19, 2013, NACRJ was formally introduced to attendees at a luncheon during the 4th National Conference on Restorative Justice in Toledo, OH. Every registered attendee was afforded an opportunity for free membership for the first year using a discount code. On the last day of the conference the first formal business meeting was held. Approximately 40 attendees participated. At that meeting the Constitution and By-Laws and the Interim Leadership Team (2013-2015) were ratified. Furthermore, the contract with ProQuest was approved and the sites for the 2015 and 2017 conferences were approved.
By the time that meeting adjourned at 9 am, the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice was legally formed with a constitution, by-laws, a Board of Directors, Officers, and an Advisory Council. The conference was also renamed for the association as the “NACRJ Conference”.
Over the years our tradition has been that each local organizing committee sets the theme, identifies the presentation tracks, and creates a look and feel for each conference that reflects local community and culture. In this way we hope attendees experience a rich, new and different conference each time.
In 2015, the 5th National Conference on Community and Restorative Justice was held in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Dr. Mara Schiff, Department of Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University as the Lead Organizer for that conference and over 550 people attended. In 2017, the 6th National Conference on Restorative Justice was held in Oakland, CA. Dr. Fania E. Davis, Executive Director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) and Dr. Teiahsha Bankhead served as the Co-Lead Organizers. As noted earlier, over 1,300 people attended the 2017 conference in Oakland.
Over the years, NACRJ membership has risen steadily. At the end of the last full membership year (2016-2017) there were over 600 members
Through out its history, NACRJ has been an all-volunteer membership association. To create a long term sustainable and effective association we will have to transition into a volunteer led association that is full-time staffed by paid staff. This is likely to be the next major hurdle in the develop of NACRJ. It is the same transition that long term membership associations have had to make. However, this will require a consistent base of donor support. We think that will happen.
"Shaping Justice for the 21st Century"