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Skidmore College

College launches restorative justice project

August 24, 2015
David Karp, professor of sociology
David Karp, professor of sociology

As the restorative justice movement gains traction nationally, Skidmore has launched a program designed to advance the movement’s principles and implementation.

The Skidmore College Project on Restorative Justice will conduct research, teaching, and training in restorative justice and offer technical assistance for related initiatives in schools, colleges, communities, and the criminal justice system.

Restorative justice is based on a collaborative decision-making process that includes offenders, victims, and others seeking to hold offenders accountable. Offenders must acknowledge responsibility for their actions, take agreed-upon steps to repair the harm they have caused, and work to build constructive relationships and personal standing. A number of formats can be used—often with direct dialogue between the victim and offender—that focus on prevention, reparation, and rebuilding trust within a community.

“Instead of focusing only on punishing offenders, restorative justice pays attention to the needs of victims and communities. It seeks reparation of harm, healing of trauma, and reconciliation of interpersonal conflict,” said David Karp, professor of sociology and director of Skidmore’s Restorative Justice Project.

“This form of justice can be highly effective for crimes and school-based misconduct by holding people accountable for their behavior in ways that are meaningful to the victim and community,” noted Karp. He said research demonstrates that restorative justice lowers recidivism rates, and that the active participation of victims and offenders leads to high levels of satisfaction with the process. He said restorative justice is applicable in settings ranging from K–12 school systems and college campuses to criminal proceedings for juveniles and adults.

Karp called restorative justice a global social movement with many traditions and approaches, some of which have roots in indigenous cultures. He said the movement is expanding rapidly in the U.S., including at the state level, with 32 states having legislation that addresses this form of justice.

In Karp’s view, restorative justice must have a place in the current push to reform the nation’s criminal justice system, which is marked by overcrowded prisons, high costs, and racial disparity. “There is a significant bipartisan effort at high levels to make changes in criminal justice in this country,” he said. “Successful criminal justice reform will depend on the incorporation of restorative justice principles because they provide a new way to hold offenders accountable, but also offer offenders the social support necessary to be successful citizens in the future.”

Karp said a major goal of the Skidmore project is to help form a New York State restorative justice coalition that will lobby and advocate for restorative justice legislation on the state level.

In addition to Karp, the project’s associates include Duke Fisher, a facilitator and trainer for Leaning Labs, Inc.; Kaaren Williamsen, Title IX coordinator at Swarthmore College; Joao Salm, a professor of criminal justice at Governors State University; and Jordan Nowotny, professor of criminal justice at Farleigh Dickinson College.

The Skidmore College Restorative Justice Project is sponsored in part by First Fairfield Associates, a social-enterprise investment firm with an office in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 

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