Types of Circles

The following Circle definitions (Sentencing through Support) come from Kay Pranis' book The Little Book of CIrcle Process and these definitions can be explored further in her book, which can be purchased here.    Additional books on Restorative Justice can be found at Living Justice Press.

Permission to use these definitions was granted by the author, Kay Pranis, on April 20, 2017.


A Sentencing Circle is a community-directed process in partnership with the criminal justice system.  It involves all those affected by an offense in deciding an appropriate sentencing plan which addresses the concerns of all participants.  This Circle brings together the person who has been harmed, the person who caused the harm, family and friends of each, other community members, justice system representatives (judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, police, probation officer), and other resource professionals.  The participants discuss:  1) what happened, 2) why it happened, 3) what the impact is, and 4) what is needed to repair the harm and prevent it from happening again.

By consensus, the Circle develops the sentence for the person who committed the crime and may also stipulate responsibilities of community members and justice officials as part of the agreement.  Preparation for a Sentencing Circle may involve a Healing Circle for the person harmed and a Circle of Understanding for the one who committed the harm before bringing the two parties together.


The purpose of a Healing Circle is to share pain of a person or persons who have experienced trauma or loss.  A plan for support beyond the Circle may emerge, but is not required.


A Circle of Understanding is a Talking Circle focused on understanding some aspect of a conflict or difficult situation.  A Circle of Understanding is generally not a decision-making Circle; therefore, it does not need to reach consensus.  Its purpose is to develop a more complete picture of the context or reason for a particular event or behavior.


Reintegration Circles bring together an individual and a group or community from which that individual has been estranged to work toward reconciliation and acceptanceof the individual into the group again.  Reintegration Circles frequently develop consensus agreements.  They have been used for juveniles and adults who are returning to the community from prisons or correctional facilities.


A Support Circle brings together key people to support a person through a particular difficulty or major change in life.  Support Circles often meet regularly over a period of time.  By consensus, Support Circles may develop agreements or plans, but they are not necessarily decision-making Circles.


A Circle of Accountability brings together community with a client, a perpetrator of conflict or crime, to explore the harm caused by the crime or conflict, encourage the client to take accountability for the client's role in that harm, and support the client to ensure the behavior does not happen again.  

Circles of Accountability may vary in length of time, and usually involve ongoing compacts and agreements, through consensus in Circle, to try new behaviors or refrain from unhealthy behaviors.  Circles of Accountability may or may not include the victim of the conflict or crime.

Learn more about WCCC's partnership with the Washington County Attorney's Office to combat commercial sex exploitation in our community and change the culture in Washington County through Accountability Circles for the johns seeking commercial sex in our community.


Conflict Resolution Through Circles

Community Circles have at times served communities by providing a forum for the discussion of difficult community issues, and helped facilitate action plans or dispute resolution. Examples of these include Circles with feuding family members to create understanding, Circles with local church members to resolve internal conflicts, and Circles with married couples to improve their communication.

Circles enhance community health by teaching all participants how to resolve conflicts in a manner where communities develop collective responsibility and assume ownership for making decisions regarding their own issues.