Introduction to Restorative Justice/Restorative Practices
Imagine an early morning breakfast meeting. A stranger begins to tear as he extols the virtues of “Restorative Justice.” My first reaction is… “the man has lost his marbles…we’re just talking about some pseudo-group therapy circle exercise!” Little did I know how deeply the program would impact me personally, or how strongly I would advocate its use.
Restorative Justice, a philosophy based on the practices of the Maori tribe of New Zealand, provides the means for a community to repair the harm done through inappropriate or offensive behavior. The restorative justice conference (or “community accountability conference” [CAC] as we refer to it) is a process whereby participants engage in honest dialogue, within a respectful and supportive environment, and where free and open expression of emotion is encouraged. Conference participants attempt to achieve resolution to some conflict precipitated by inappropriate or offensive behavior.
Implementation at Elizabethtown College
Formal CACs were used as an alternative to suspension for those few students with recurring behavioral issues. Provided the conference was completed successfully, the college judicial officer would accept the recommendations of the conference as listed in the CAC agreement. Formal CAC agreements might include any of the following: an apology, community service, payment for services rendered, reparations, therapy or treatment, suspension, or other ideas generated by the conference participants. We’ve begun utilizing restorative practices in less formal contexts as well.
The Conferencing Process
One major factor necessary to conduct a restorative conference is acknowledgment and accountability of one’s inappropriate or offensive behavior. Those affected by this behavior are invited to participate, as are their “supporters.” The ** “offending individual” and any supporters s/he requests also may participate. The Elizabethtown College CAC “facilitator” conducts the conference following scripted procedures in the following manner:
• “offender” responds to facilitator’s scripted questions, describing the incident
• “victims” answer the facilitator’s scripted questions, followed by “victim supporters”
• “offender supporters” answer the scripted questions
• “offender” may offer comments prior to “agreement phase”
• Agreement Phase begins with victims (followed by victim supporters, then offender supporters) identifying what, if anything is necessary to repair the harm done by this inappropriate or offensive behavior. The facilitator seeks input from ”offender” following each suggestion.
• CAC concludes once agreement is reached, and participants share refreshments (this is the symbolic reintegration of the “offender” back into the community, a crucial part of the restorative philosophy).
** The terms “offender” and victim” are printed in the REAL Justice literature and script utilized in the Elizabethtown College CAC, yet they are never verbalized during any part of the conferencing process.
Examples of Restorative/Community Accountability Conferencing
A residence director facilitates a CAC addressing excessively loud music played late at night. Bill, a resident, readily acknowledges his behavior, but thinks nothing of it at first. Through the CAC Bill comes to understand how his behavior impacts his floor community. Janice, his neighbor, expresses her frustration about failing a mid-term exam earlier in the day, stating she could not concentrate due to Bill’s loud music last evening. Bill agrees to regulate his music.
Jonathan, on the verge of suspension, agrees to a CAC at the suggestion of the college judicial officer. His parents and roommate were present (“offender’s supporters”), as were the Dean, Judicial Officer, Residence Director, Resident Assistant, and College Addictions Specialist (“victims and victim supporters”). Jonathan shared the particulars of the incident followed by the college staff and his supporters. The College staff expressed feelings of frustration, resentment and disappointment. Jonathan’s parents tearfully expressed their disappointment, while reaffirming their love for their son. This was the turning point of the CAC; Jonathan EXPRESSED REMORSE for his behavior. Among other agreement suggestions, participants identified intensive alcohol treatment for Jonathan, but he rejected the notion. After hearing his concerns, all participants agreed to intensive outpatient treatment. The agreement completed, participants enjoyed the refreshments and expressed their satisfaction with the CAC process.
Integrating Community Standards and Restorative Justice
When integrating these programs, do not put the “cart” (restorative practices), before the “horse” (developing community standards).
To get started, each semester Resident Assistants conduct a meeting to facilitate the development of floor community standards. When an incident occurs that compromises or violates the standards, a standards meeting is held. Facts are gathered prior to the meeting. The incident is discussed, the responsible party identified if possible, and then a CAC (restorative phase) commences if appropriate. Following the CAC, the floor community reviews their community standards.
Assessment of the Restorative Community Development Program
Our anecdotal evidence suggests that for formal CAC participants (“offending individuals”), the likelihood of further disruptive or destructive behavior is decreased. The CAC process can be quite labor-intensive, and it’s for this reason that we’ve begun to identify less formal ways of utilizing restorative practices. I firmly believe that our students grow significantly as a result of our CAC program.
The educational value of integrating CAC and Community Standards is phenomenal, limited only by one’s willingness to trust the process of open dialogue and expression of affect.
Submitted by Bob Mikus, Director of Residence Life, Elizabethtown College