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
DefinitionRestorative 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.
- Host a dialogue with an offender and harmed party letting them tell their story
- Listen to identify and list the harms
- Facilitate the exploration of solutions to repair the harms and rebuild trust
What was the harm?
- “What impact has this had on you and on others?”
What can be done to repair the harm?
What do you think needs to happen to make things right?”
- Emotional harm> Apology
- Material harm> Restitution (not fines)
- Communal harm> Community service
What can be done to rebuild trust?
- “What can be done to reassure us that there will be no further problems?”
- Actions that respond to individual risk factors
- Actions that demonstrate commitment to community
- Actions that explore harm and demonstrate understanding
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)
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.
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.
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.
- “I had a voice”—The active participation of the offender in the decision-making process with the student development goal of internalizing community standards so behavior is guided by conscience and recognition of the ethical responsibilities inherent in community membership.
- “I took responsibility”—How much offenders understand not only that the behavior was a violation of rules, but also the consequences of the behavior on others and their willingness to take responsibility for making things right.
- “I talked it out”—The ability to listen to others’ perspectives, express remorse, and repair fractured relationships at least to the point that students in conflict can safely and civilly co-exist in the campus community.
- “I belong here”—The student’ social ties to the campus community, including a positive, non-adversarial orientation to campus administrators and police.
- “That was fair”—Belief that the conduct process was fair, which helps create a sense of legitimacy for the rules and standards of the institution.
- “I’m ready to move on”—Satisfaction with the process leading to closure: facing up to the misconduct, learning from it, but not letting it become an obstacle to future success.
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:
- A description detailing the harm caused by the offense. This shows that the offender understands the harmful consequences of his or her behavior.
- An acknowledgement that the offender was responsible for the offense. Watch out for expressions that deny, displace, or minimize responsibility.
- An expression of remorse or regret in causing harm.
- A statement of commitment to responsible behavior and causing no further trouble.
What I Will Do:
- A statement of commitment to make amends for the harm caused.
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:
- Service is a way of making amends to the community.
- Service is an opportunity to demonstrate good citizenship.
Proposal: Offender should take the lead on proposing a relevant form of community service. Proposals should include:
- The type of service project
- How the service makes amends for harm done to the community
- Learning goals for the offender’s personal development
- A timeline for service completion
all assigned hours are completed.
Reflection: Offender should write a letter describing the value of service experience personally
and for the community.
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:
- Clear specification of financial losses to the harmed party
- A payment plan that meets the needs of the harmed party, but also takes into account
the offender’s ability to pay. Sometimes labor is substituted for payment.