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Marquette University Law School Kicks Off Restorative Justice Initiative.

In 2004, the Marquette University Law School augmented its Dispute Resolution Programme by creating a restorative justice initiative. This new programme seeks to "serve as a resource for victims, communities, and restorative justice organizations, as a restorative justice clinical experience for law students, and as a program promoting scholarship, research, and dialogue on restorative justice." Kyle Leighton, a programme assistant for the initiative, and Janine Geske, Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and Distinguished Professor of Law, offer a description of the Restorative Justice Initiative and the inaugural events.
Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has created a Restorative Justice Initiative.  The Initiative serves as a resource for victims, communities, and restorative justice organizations, as a restorative justice clinical experience for law students, and as a program promoting scholarship, research, and dialogue on restorative justice. The Initiative is committed to supporting victims and communities in the healing process by providing information and training resources, and by facilitating communication. Spearheaded and directed by Distinguished Professor of Law Janine Geske, the Initiative is a victim-centered response to crime using principles of alternative dispute resolution.  Geske’s participation and interest in restorative practices has been developed over years of working with victims of crime and with prison inmates.  As a prior Justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a judge in Milwaukee, and a Legal Aid Society attorney, Geske has had years of experience with the traditional workings of the justice system.  Restorative justice has allowed her to promote a new, unconventional method to dealing with crime.   

The concept of restorative justice that Geske brings to the Marquette Initiative is based on a sociological principle that when a crime happens, there is a ripple effect felt throughout society.  Marquette will promote restorative justice processes making it easier to provide some insight and understanding for all those who have been affected by crime.  The restorative justice events that Marquette facilitates are aimed at providing the community with a complete look at the restorative justice process, as well as an introduction to the Initiative as a whole.  The Restorative Justice Initiative contains the following components:

  • Resources for victims, communities, and restorative justice organizations
  • Law classes focusing on the history and theory of the restorative justice movement
  • Restorative justice clinical experience for law students
  • A clearinghouse and center for scholarship, research, and dialogue on restorative justice.
  • Collaboration on special projects with Dr. Mark Umbreit, Director of the Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota.

As its first undertaking, the Marquette Restorative Justice Initiative celebrated International Restorative Justice Week from November 15th through the 18th.   During the week, students, faculty and staff at Marquette University joined with victim/survivors, restorative justice practitioners, judges, lawyers, probation and parole officers, church leaders and community members to highlight Restorative Justice and the new Restorative Initiative here at Marquette Law School.   The main event of the week encapsulated what the new Restorative Justice Initiative would bring to Marquette and the community by giving victim/survivors of crime, the opportunity to share their experiences both with the criminal justice system and with restorative practices.

The main event of the Restorative Justice Initiative kickoff week took place on Thursday, November 18th.  It was called “Victims’ Perspectives” and was held at the Varsity Theatre on the campus of Marquette University.  It featured victim speakers who told their stories to a crowd of about 300 people.  The event began by welcoming the winners of the “Restorative Justice High School Essay contest.”  Six high school students were chosen to receive awards from the Initiative, as they wrote essays responding to the question “What is the effect of crime on victims and communities?”  One of the more emotional moments of the night took place when Professor Geske read Anthony Pettis’s essay, winner of the “Victims’ Perspective Award,” aloud to the crowd.  Pettis’s essay tells his story of grief after his father was murdered during an armed robbery.  

After the essay contest winners were announced, the survivors were introduced by Professor Geske and a host of others who were on hand to show their support for the Restorative Justice Initiative.  They included Marquette Law School Dean and Professor Joseph Kearney, Dr. Madeline Wake, the Provost of Marquette University, the Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann, the Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager, Dean David Link, the President and CEO of the International Center for Healing and Law, and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Director of Victims Services Colleen Jo Winston.  

The keynote speakers, a special group of victim/survivors, shared their incredible experiences and vigorous support for restorative justice.  Lynn BeBeau, the first speaker, is the widow of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty while responding to a domestic violence call. She has often been a guest of Professor Geske’s Green Bay Prison Restorative Justice program, and speaks about how her involvement with restorative practices has allowed her to move on with her life and not allow the offenders in her case to control her through pain and fear.   

Karen Jones, a business owner and victim of fraud by an employee, spoke about how the conference with her offender allowed her to tell him about the ways in which he hurt her family.  She said that the offender thought that he was only stealing from the business, and not her personally, and she was afforded the chance to tell him that he hurt her family financially, as well as violated the trust of her customers.   

Gregory Williams, the survivor of an armed robbery, told his story of being held at gunpoint, and the emotions and pain that he went through in the following weeks and months.  He also talked about how his participation in victim/survivor panels in juvenile facilities has helped him through the trauma of his victimization.

Penny Beernsten, the survivor of a sexual assault and attempted murder, discussed not only the impact of the crime, but also the impact of learning last year that the man she identified as her attacker was not the perpetrator. The man she had identified, Steven Avery, spent eighteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit. DNA testing identified another person, incarcerated for other assaults, as her attacker. She has met face to face with Mr. Avery and his parents and apologized for her misidentification. She also wrote an apology letter that was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. She spoke about how her conference with Mr. Avery helped her heal some of the pain and guilt that she felt for identifying him as the person who assaulted her.  She went on to explain that he did not blame her for what had happened. She now speaks nationally in support of Innocence Projects.            

The program provided the public an opportunity to see the powerful effect of not only the use of restorative justice techniques, but also the ability to confront the difficult emotions that a victim of crime has to face.  It served as a way for others who have not had much experience with crime and victimization to better understand what restorative justice is and what it can accomplish in our society.  The “kickoff” event of the Restorative Justice Initiative was an excellent beginning to a vibrant endeavor supported by Marquette Law School.


May 2005

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