Being Howard Zehr

Nationally known restorative justice practitioner sujatha baliga tells this story of how she met Herald Press author Howard Zehr. It was 2007, and baliga had invited Zehr to speak at a conference on crime victims at Stanford Law School’s Criminal Justice Center.

As Howard finished his talk, Robert Weisburg, the center’s long-time faculty director, excitedly whispered, “I’ve discovered what I want to be when I grow up! Howard Zehr!”

I was in complete agreement with Professor Weisburg that day. In the years that followed, I’ve taken every opportunity to learn from Howard, in the hopes that his prodigious heart and intellect would somehow be contagious.

It’s no exaggeration to say that by asking us to change lenses, Howard Zehr has changed countless lives. Mine is among them.


Shortly after meeting Howard and encountering his paradigm on restorative justice, baliga left the practice of law to try to put into practice her emerging commitment to a justice that restores and heals. “Here was a view of justice that could better meet crime victims’ needs, while simultaneously ending our addiction to punitive confinement by believing in the power of communities to support their members when things go wrong,” baliga writes in the foreword to the new edition of Zehr’s classic text, Changing Lenses. “Changing these constructs requires fearlessly replacing entrenched views that no longer serve us with new ones that do. Howard Zehr is such a thinker.”


Like baliga, countless restorative justice practitioners have found in Zehr a mentor and a friend. Frequently called the “grandfather of the restorative justice movement,” Zehr published Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice, with Herald Press in 1990.

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It fast became the central text of the restorative justice movement, in use in classrooms and workshops and a variety of settings across the world. Zehr has led hundreds of events in more than twenty-five countries and thirty-five states. His work has included trainings and consultations on restorative justice, victim-offender conferencing, judicial reform, and other criminal justice matters. He has had particular influence in the United States, Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Britain, the Ukraine, and New Zealand, the latter which has restructured its juvenile justice system into a family-focused, restorative approach. “Changing Lenses has done more to shape my understanding of justice and peacemaking and to define my scholarly career and sense of vocation than any other,” Chris Marshall, professor of restorative justice at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, says. “It remains my first choice when people ask me what they should read to learn more about restorative justice.”

The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times, released in June 2015, gave Zehr the opportunity to add valuable updates to terminology and paradigms that have shifted in the twenty-five years since the book was first published. Language about victim-offender interaction has changed, as have the discussions surrounding mass incarceration, race, and poverty in the United States. A new resource section adds group exercises and discussion questions from leading restorative justice practitioners. Nobel Peace Prize-winner Leymah Gbowee, a former student of Zehr’s, says that the new edition of the book “will change how you think about wrongdoing and justice and mercy.” And Michelle Alexander, author of the groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow, says, “Now that our nation is finally beginning to come to terms with the immorality and irrationality of our criminal injustice system, I hope that we will reread Howard Zehr’s classic text, Changing Lenses, and accept his challenge to reimagine what justice ought to look like.”


Undergirding all of his wisdom and experience in restorative justice is a commitment to the Christ who calls us to compassion—for both those who have been harmed and those who harm.  Changing Lenses has a robust theological and biblical rationale for restorative justice. And although he may be the grandfather of the movement, Zehr is hardly sitting in his rocking chair watching the world go by. As co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice and a distinguished professor at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, Zehr remains active in speaking, teaching, writing, and consulting. He continues to be sought out by journalists and scholar for his expertise—for example being quoted extensively in this recent article about to the Charleston church shooting.

Zehr is one of many Herald Press authors with whom I’m privileged to work. Like Robert Weisburg and sujatha baliga, I wouldn’t mind being Howard Zehr when I grow up. After reading Changing Lenses, maybe you’ll think that too. As far as role models go, you could do a lot worse.

Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times is available for purchase here.

headshotValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.