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Applying a restorative justice approach to student conduct

Mar 06, 2012

from the article by Daniel Fusch in Academic Impressions:

....Taking an RJ approach requires a philosophical shift for the student conduct office – it entails new sets of questions for student conduct hearings and an alert ear for cases in which there is the possibility to restore harm that’s been done, rather than simply (or only) penalize.

....To learn more about how to make a restorative justice program most successful, we interviewed two officials from Colorado State University, which has frequently been recognized for its restorative justice and other student conduct programs. The two officials are Paul Osincup and Melissa Emerson, the associate and assistant directors of conflict resolution and student conduct services at CSU. Paul Osincup holds student conduct hearings; Melissa Emerson manages the restorative justice process once a student has been referred as a likely RJ candidate.

Here is their advice.

Criteria for Taking an RJ Approach

Emerson notes three core criteria for referring a student conduct case to restorative justice:

  • Some harm has been done to other parties
  • The offender expresses sincere remorse for the harm done
  • The victimized parties express a willingness for restoration

....Cases that are less appropriate for RJ include:

  • Cases in which the offender does not take responsibility for the harm caused
  • Cases in which the offender is seeking alternatives to a sanction they dislike (for example, if the victim wants the offender to move out of the residence hall and the offender simply isn’t willing to move, this is not an ideal situation for an RJ conference)
  • Cases involving sexual offenses

....Options when a Student is Less Remorseful

To handle situations of this kind responsibly (and without re-victimizing the other parties involved in the incident), Osincup suggests considering measures like these:

  • Hold a conference with a “surrogate victim” – either an individual with RJ training or an individual who has had a similar experience, realizes the offender may not be fully remorseful, and understands the goals of the conference
  • Assemble a community impact or neighborhood impact panel – in effect, a panel of surrogate victims who can work to raise the offender’s awareness of the impact (for example, if the incident was a noise citation for an off-campus party, a neighborhood impact panel could talk with the offender about specific ways that the noise impacts the community)

....Don’t Rely Only on Victim-Initiated Cases

CSU’s process is unique in that the conflict resolution officer meets with the person who caused the harm first before discussing the option of restorative justice with the parties harmed. Most other RJ programs are victim-driven. If most of your referrals come from student conduct, there are several advantages to meeting with the offender first:

  • You ensure that you’ve heard both sides of the story
  • You avoid raising false hopes for the victim by alerting them to a restorative process that the offender is not ready for
  • By determining first that the offender is ready, you avoid ruling out options other than an RJ conference in the event that the victim isn’t ready (for example, an offender who still wishes to repair harm might be able to conference with a surrogate victim or write an apology letter that can be delivered to the victim without an actual face-to-face conference)

....Define a Clear Policy

Emerson and Osincup suggest that it’s critical to define a clear policy and a clear process, outlining:

  • Who makes the call on whether to refer a case to restorative justice?
  • When is a case appropriate for restorative justice versus traditional mediation and other options?

In the absence of a clear policy that is communicated both across the student conduct office and among senior administrators, there will be a greater risk of political pressures influencing the process. While cases of this kind may be rare, they can be prove extremely problematic when they do arise.

Read the whole article.

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