Campus Restorative Justice
Restorative Justice is gaining popularity on college campuses as a philosophical and practical response to student misconduct. This website offers resources for learning about campus restorative justice. I share these as a researcher, practitioner, and trainer of restorative practices (and not as a representative of Skidmore College where I work).
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.
Restorative justice has become a popular practice worldwide. Its practices range from Neighborhood Accountability Boards in Denver, Colorado, to Victim-Offender Dialogues in Pennsylvania prisons to peacemaking circles in aboriginal communities in Canada to Family Group Conferences in New Zealand to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa and Rwanda. Models and practices vary significantly under the RJ umbrella. However, most would agree that the core elements of restorative practice include a facilitated dialogue between an offender and a harmed party to identify and acknowledge the harm and find ways to repair it.
David Karp, of Skidmore College and Josh Bacon of James Madison
University seek insight from the "grandfather" of Restorative
Justice, Howard Zehr.
What are Campus RJ Practices?
Four practices best represent how RJ has been implemented on the college campus.
- Restorative Justice Conferences. This model focuses on the facilitated dialogue between offender and harmed parties.
After a discussion of the harm, the parties (rather than the hearing officer or board)
decide what steps the offender can take to repair the harm. Trained facilitators guide
- Restorative Justice Circles. These are similar to RJ conferences, but borrow practices from indigenous traditions,
especially the Native American practice of using a "talking piece." This is a symbolic
or sacred object that is held by the speaker, indicating that no one else should speak.
The talking piece is passed clockwise around the circle, creating a different rhythm
of the dialogue. A traditional talking piece is a feather, but at Skidmore College
our Hockey coach uses a puck when he hosts a circle with his team. Circles are used
for a variety of purposes beyond offender/harmed party dialogue and decision making.
Often they are used for discussion of difficult issues, particularly in Residential
- Restorative Justice Boards. These have a structure of a "model code" conduct board with standing board members
that may be drawn from faculty, staff, and students. But they focus on RJ principles
of identifying and repairing harm and rebuilding trust. Harmed parties are invited,
but are not needed for the board to proceed. While RJ boards retain the ability to
have private deliberations and make their own determinations about sanctions, these
practices are avoided to increase the active participation of offenders and harmed
- Restorative Justice Administrative Hearings. Because most campuses rely on one-on-one administrative hearings to manage their caseloads, many have incorporated restorative practices into their hearings. Typically, this would include an emphasis on identifying what harm was caused by the offense and how the student can repair it. But it can also include inviting harmed parties to participate in the hearing, essentially transforming the hearing into a RJ conference.