Project on Restorative Justice

RJ Banner Photo

About Restorative Justice


This is the cover image from Rupert Ross' book, Returning to the Teachings. The artwork, by Randy Charbonneau, is entitled Restorative Justice and Transforming Society. The description in the book reads:

"It was the turtle who offered his back when a foundation was needed to re-create Mother Earth. At the beginning of time, the Anishinabe (the original people) had ways of dealing with justice within the community. The circle was known to be the place of no end. It created a space where one's voice could be heard--where the capacity, the connection, the creativity of the community found a place of being, by bringing people together to repair the harm that had been done. A victim's voice, an offender's voice, the community's voice, no longer ignored, shamed or victimized. A place of compassion, connection, sacredness, voice and truth."

The Core Elements of Restorative Justice


Restorative justice is a collaborative decision-making process that includes victims, offenders, and others seeking to hold offenders accountable by having them (a) accept and acknowledge responsibility for their offenses, (b) to the best of their ability repair the harm they caused to victims and communities, and (c) work to reduce the risk of reoffense by building positive social ties to the community.

Core Process


Core Principles

core principles 

Core Questions

What was the harm?

What can be done to repair the harm?

What do you think needs to happen to make things right?”

What can be done to rebuild trust?

Core Starting Place

Sometimes RJ is described as an approach that is in conflict with other strategies. We think of several approaches as complementary. First, we begin with RJ because it engages students in a moral dialogue about the harmfulness of the offense and has the greatest chance for internalizing ethical standards. If that doesn’t work, we can then try a deterrent approach that appeals to students’ calculation of costs and benefits, e.g., “Since you are not moved by the wrongfulness of the behavior, then you should recognize that if you continue to engage in it, these are the consequences.” We reserve incapacitation approaches (such as loss of access to privileges or removal from housing or suspension) as a last resort for students who cannot be persuaded either through moral or rational appeal. (Graphic based on Braithwaite 2002)

 core starting place
Research and Assessment of Campus Restorative Programs

To explore the effectiveness of campus restorative justice, Casey Sacks and David Karp recently conducted a study called the STARR Project (STudent Accountability and Restorative Research Project). We gathered data on 659 conduct cases from 18 schools around the United States, including large public institutions, small liberal arts colleges, secular and faith-based. We compared restorative practices with traditional model code hearings.

Appeals, Completion, and Reoffending

RJ and model code hearings tend to produce similarly low numbers of appeals, high rates of program completion, and relatively few repeat offenders. Appeals were rare overall, but practically nonexistent in RJ cases (<1%). This was less than in model code cases, which had an appeal rate of 4%. Both practices had similarly high rates of compliance, with 93% of students completing their sanctions within one year of the hearing. And both practices had similar rates of reoffending, about 18% within one year. However, when students reoffended after an RJ intervention, their violations tended to be less serious than model code reoffenders.

Participant Satisfaction

In the STARR Project, RJ practices sharply contrasted with model code hearings by their inclusion of harmed parties in the dialogue process. The table below shows that harmed parties consistently and strongly appreciated this opportunity for participation.

harmed party 

 Student Learning

Student Affairs professionals are educators and recognize that when students get in trouble, we have an opportunity to use the conduct process to teach them important life lessons about the responsibilities of community membership. In the STARR Project, we explored six dimensions of student learning and found that restorative practices created an excellent opportunity for learning. In each case, RJ yielded statistically significant improvements in learning over model code hearings.

Student Offender

Apology Guidelines

Apologies are expression of remorse and the willingness to take responsibility for a transgression. They must be sincere if they are to be taken seriously. Apologies are an important way to repair community relationships and restore trust between parties. Apologies should be written (not verbal), and approved before sending to a harmed party.

Apology letters should contain the following elements:

What Happened:

My Role How I Feel: What I Won’t Do:

What I Will Do:

Community Service Guidelines:

Volunteering in the community is a way to be helpful to others, show that one is socially responsible, and rebuild the trust that is lost through misbehavior. Community service should be meaningful and rewarding. Community service serves two important goals:

Proposal: Offender should take the lead on proposing a relevant form of community service. Proposals should include: Validation: Offender should submit a letter, signed by a service agency staff member, to verify that
                all assigned hours are completed.
Reflection: Offender should write a letter describing the value of service experience personally
                and for the community.

Restitution Guidelines

Restitution is monetary payment or labor that pays for financial losses. Restitution is very different from fines even though both involve money. Fines are a punitive sanction meant to impose a cost or burden upon the offender. The amount is determined by what is believed to be effective in deterring repeat offending. Restitution is determined by an accounting of the losses incurred by the harm party. Restitution agreements should include: