At Colorado State University (CSU), the office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services (CRSCS) offers students, faculty, and staff numerous approaches that support the mission of the institution. The driving purposes of the office are to support students as they overcome mistakes; engage in character development with an emphasis on ethical decision-making and integrity; resolve conflict at the lowest level possible through education, facilitation and support; and to foster a safe and welcoming environment (Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services, n.d.). In recent years, CRSCS has developed a Restorative Justice Program as an alternative sanction in the student conduct process.
History and Principles of Restorative Justice
Restorative justice is not a new practice. Practices of restorative justice exist in the Maori tradition and Native American healing circles and also existed in ancient Arab, Greek, and Roman civilizations (Braithwaite, 2002).
Restorative justice is often compared to the traditional United States criminal justice system, which is referred to as retributive justice. The contrast is that retributive justice focuses on what law was broken and restorative justice focuses on harm caused to individuals (Zehr, 1990). Restorative justice has a central concern for the person(s) harmed and his or her needs and seeks to physically and symbolically repair the harm (Zehr, 2002). Harm can be anything identified by the person(s) harmed and the community, such as property or emotional damage. Restorative justice brings together all individuals who were impacted, allows each person the opportunity to ask questions and to share his/her unique perspective, and contribute to an agreement that helps to repair the harm caused.
Restorative justice affects behavior by engaging an individual’s feeling of responsibility, rather than a focus on a fear of punishment and being caught (Tyler, 2006). Johnstone (2004) contrasts restorative justice and the traditional criminal justice system by noting the impact of empowering and including all stakeholders in a restorative justice conference.
Roche (2003) investigated five different restorative justice models that all maintain a focus on repairing harm. The first restorative justice practice presented by Roche is a conference program. The conference program involves the person(s) harmed, the person(s) who caused harm, and family or friends in a support role. The second restorative justice practice is typically called a circle program. There are several similarities between the conference and circle program, but a circle program usually includes community members and incorporates a ritual. In this model, the person(s) harmed and the person(s) who caused harm sit in a circle across from one another along with the additional participants. One example of a ritual is the use of physical talking piece that is passed among participants. A third restorative justice practice is a sentencing panel or accountability board that is made up of community volunteers that represent direct victims. The offender comes before the panel similar to the way an offender would approach a judge. Karp (2004) addresses the use of a board in a college setting and notes that the board uses restorative dialogue and collaborates with the person(s) who caused harm to create a restorative contract to repair that harm. The fourth model, victim-offender mediation (VOM), typically only includes the person(s) harmed, the person(s) who caused harm, and a facilitator seated around a table. The fifth model is a combination of any of the abovementioned models depending on the circumstance, such as using a circle program and a sentencing panel to address a community incident.
Restorative Justice on the College Campus
Restorative justice may have a positive impact on a college student’s moral development as this practice engages the student, challenges the student to look beyond self, and increases awareness of actions and potential harm caused. According to Kohlberg’s (1981) theory of moral development, growth occurs when an individual is stimulated to think and solve a problem. Kohlberg’s stage model also suggests that when an individual reaches stage five he or she has a wider perspective and becomes more aware of how personal actions impact other people. Throughout restorative justice the person who caused harm is challenged to think about how his or her actions affected and harmed others. Thus, when a person who caused harm works through the restorative justice process, he or she begins to think beyond him/herself and recognizes the impact of behavior on other people.
Restorative justice is still a relatively new approach to resolving conflict on the college campus in the United States. Currently, about a dozen colleges offer some type of restorative justice program for students. College campuses are effective locations for restorative justice programs due to the campus community and the available extracurricular and academic resources that can complement the values and principles of restorative justice (Warters, et.al., 2000). The prevalence of alcohol (DeJung, 2004) and student misbehavior (Karp, 2004) on a college campus may both be positively impacted through restorative justice strategies such as conferences and creative agreements.
Colorado State University and Restorative Justice
Prior to the restorative justice program, CSU’s primary approach for responding to student wrongdoing included only the offender. The CRSCS office, however, believed an additional effective approach existed for influencing student behavior and was eager to implement restorative justice strategies.
Through a Restorative Justice Pilot Project in spring 2003, CRSCS handled five conduct cases using a restorative justice rocess. Throughout that time the pilot was reviewed, assessed, and found to be consistent with the mission and vision of CRSCS. Given the success of the pilot project, the office chose to continue implementing the restorative justice model and began to extend more resources in that direction. During the fall of 2003, a full-time professional was appointed to coordinate the new program.
The restorative justice practice that CSU used during the pilot and continues to use is referred to as group conferencing and is similar to Roche’s (2003) circle program. The majority of restorative justice referrals come from conduct cases where students have broken a rule or regulation set forth by the Student Conduct Code. The Restorative Justice Program coordinator works closely with all hearing officers and provides case consultation and trainings on a regular basis to increase understanding of restorative justice and hence the amount of referrals. Typical referrals involve alcohol violations, academic dishonesty, minor theft, and bias incidents. The philosophy of the CSU program maintains that in order for a case to be appropriate for restorative justice, the person(s) who caused harm must take responsibility for his/her actions, express remorse, and be interested in meeting with those s/he harmed. CSU also incorporates the ritual of “breaking bread” at the end of each restorative justice conference in order to celebrate the repairing of harm and relationships.
The Restorative Justice Program at CSU collaborates with the Fort Collins Restorative Justice Program to conduct facilitator training once a year. This training is open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff at CSU. The two-and-a-half day training consists of an introduction to the tenants and principles of restorative justice, facilitation skills, and implementation of the program on campus (The Fort Collins Restorative Justice Program, n.d.).
Upon receiving a referral from a hearing officer, the first step in the restorative justice group conferencing process is a pre-conference. Facilitators conduct pre-conferences with any person that could potentially be involved. This includes the person(s) who caused harm, the person(s) harmed, community members, and support person(s).
During each pre-conference the facilitators describe the principles of restorative justice, explain group conferencing, and then ask the individual to discuss the incident from his/her perspective. The facilitators will ask questions to increase understanding of the incident and harm that was caused. Facilitators also discuss the importance of bringing support person(s) and ask the person(s) harmed and person(s) who caused harm to consider whom they would like to bring. The pre-conference allows the facilitators to screen for potential problematic attitudes or misinformation that could sabotage the restorative justice process. Conference ground rules are discussed during the pre-conference, and participants are asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.
During the pre-conference with the person who caused harm, the facilitator challenges him/her to think about what harm was caused and possible measures to repair the harm. The person(s) who caused harm is asked to bring a snack to share at the end of the conference for the ritual of “breaking bread.” During the pre-conference with the person(s) harmed, s/he has the opportunity to share feelings regarding the incident and his/her perspective on the incident. Additionally, the person harmed is able to decide the order of sharing in the conference.
After the facilitators have met with all individuals in separate pre-conferences, they decide whether or not a restorative justice group conference is appropriate. Occasionally, the person(s) harmed are skeptical to meet with the person(s) that caused harm. While each case is different, the facilitators must decide what approach is best; oftentimes more education, conversation, and addressing barriers help alleviate any fears surrounding the conference. If restorative justice is not appropriate for any reason, all parties are informed. Facilitators must be sensitive when informing each individual that restorative justice is not the appropriate next step for this particular incident and avoid assigning blame to a particular individual. If a conference does occur, it typically is very straightforward and runs smoothly as long as the pre-conferences were conducted thoroughly and appropriately.
In preparing for the conference the facilitator must be mindful of the meeting location and seating arrangements. During the conference, the facilitator must be attentive to cultural diversity, self care, potential biases, active listening, impartiality, potential conflicts of interest, and confidentiality. The facilitator is not an active participant, but someone who keeps the dialogue focused on the incident and ensures that ground rules are followed. The facilitator is responsible for emphasizing that the restorative justice process is completely voluntary as any participant may choose to excuse him/herself at any point in the process.
The facilitator begins the conference with a short reminder of the purpose of restorative justice and reminds all individuals of the incident that will be addressed during the conference. The facilitator also reminds participants of the ground rules and confidentiality agreement. The person harmed has previously chosen his/her preference for the order of talking and thus the appropriate individual begins the conversation.
As each individual shares their story, their perspective on the situation, and feelings, other participants ultimately get their questions answered, gain understanding, and begin to move toward healing. As questions are answered, this conversation comes to fruition and the facilitator moves the conference to the agreement phase. An agreement consists of the future actions that the person(s) who caused harm will do to restore the harm.
Agreements are most likely to be successful if they are written in a specific, measurable, and achievable manner. Any individual present can make a suggestion for the agreement, but the conditions are not final until every participant agrees. Once the agreement is finalized, individuals celebrate by eating the snack and engage in informal conversation.
Following the conference, the person who caused harm is expected to communicate with the Restorative Justice Program coordinator when the agreement has been met. The coordinator tracks all cases and conducts follow-up with students upon the agreement due date. Upon completion of an agreement, the Restorative Justice Program coordinator notifies all group conference participants, sends the person(s) who caused harm a certificate of completion, and informs the referring hearing officer.
Findings at Colorado State University
As of the end of the 2007-2008 school year, 90 persons harmed, 108 persons causing the harm, and 76 affected community members/support people had participated in the program. (See Table 1.) Of particular significance is the fact that about 85% of those person(s) who caused harm who participated in conferences successfully completed the terms of the agreements reached at the conferences.
To determine the level of conference participant satisfaction, a questionnaire for persons harmed, persons who caused the harm, community members, and support people was developed. Persons harmed and persons causing the harm were asked to complete the questionnaire following the pre-conference and conference, while affected community members and support people were asked to complete the questionnaire only after the conference.
Data that were available for this paper consisted of that collected through the end of school year 2007-2008. One hundred forty-six people had completed questionnaires, including 35 persons who caused harm, 66 persons harmed, and 45 community members and support people. The data analyzed for this paper were based on the question: How satisfied were you with the way this case was handled? The five-point Likert scale was: 1=Very Dissatisfied, 2=Dissatisfied, 3=Unsure, 4=Satisfied and 5=Very Satisfied.
Data were analyzed for descriptive statistics using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Analysis revealed that all participants were satisfied to very satisfied with their participation on the pre-conference and conference. Further, analysis revealed satisfaction increased when comparing the pre-conference and conference for both victims and offenders.
Further results and findings from CSU will be available in the future as questionnaires are still being issued and collected for pre-conferences and conferences.
The Restorative Justice Program coordinator also works closely with members of the Associated Students of Colorado State University’s Supreme Court and members of the Greek Standards and Values Alignment Board in order to assist student leaders in using restorative sanctions for peer accountability. Recently, the Restorative Justice Program was extended to students involved in the Drugs, Alcohol, and You (DAY) IV Program, an intensive drug and alcohol treatment program for CSU students. These students were offered the opportunity to participate in a conference to repair any harm they might have caused—whether to family, friends, or anyone involved in an incident with them—prior to receiving assistance for their substance use.
Ultimately, restorative justice offers student offenders a unique and powerful means to repair harm they caused to individuals and/or their community. The restorative justice program at CSU has allowed many students the opportunity to be a part of a conference and the results indicate a majority of these individuals had a satisfying and rewarding experience. Not only does the implementation of restorative justice offer a new approach to the traditional student conduct system, restorative justice provides students with the opportunity to morally develop and possibly change future behavior.
Dr. Tom Cavanagh, Senior Research Fellow, University of Waikato
Shay Bright, Assistant Director in the office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services, Colorado State University
Cori Shaff, Career Counselor, University of Colorado-Boulder