Restorative Justice at OCCC
Restorative Justice is a different way of thinking about conflict resolution. Instead of a traditional and punitive approach where an individual judges your story and makes decisions for you, Restorative Justice takes input from those impacted and helps repair the issues.
Because of the structure of Restorative Justice, it tends to be very impactful. Typically, it involves the people affected on all sides of a conflict and has them talk about what happened and why they acted as they did. They then come up with different solutions to their issues and determine how those responsible will fix their errors. The vulnerability that comes with that leads to higher levels of accountability and more motivation to improve and repair things after the issue.
Circle processes are the main way Restorative Justice is used. Referred to as circles because of the physical shape that is formed, circle processes are used to minimize power differences and build relationships between all the people involved in a conflict. Circles take the time to give everyone a chance to explain what happened, why they acted the way they did, and what their needs are looking forward. The group then determines who is responsible for repairing different things and sets up a method of accountability. This structure is changed to fit different needs and different formats, but holds the essentials of how Restorative Justice works and what values it holds. Staying true to this format can give a restorative direction to any conflict resolution and help people learn and grow from the experience.
Circle Process Guide
There are a lot of steps to be taken prior to, during, and after a circle process. This outline helps give an idea of what is all going into a circle process to help alleviate the issue at hand.
Identifying involved parties
Meeting with harmed parties beforehand to prepare and see if a circle is right for them
Meeting with responsible parties beforehand to prepare and see if a circle is right for them
During the Circle
Opening to introduce participants, layout expectations, and outline the circle
First round where participants share what happened from their perspective
Second round where participants share how they have been impacted
Third round where participants establish a contract on who will be doing what to repair the harms caused
Closing and recap of contract, thanking participants, and explaining next steps
Follow up meetings with circle participants to see if there are any other needs they have
Regular meetings with individuals assigned reparations as an accountability measurement[SL1]
Restorative practices have found success across the nation at different colleges and universities. One excellent example is from Skidmore College. A dorm on campus had students living there who decided to take furniture from the common spaces and move them into their dorm rooms while leaving common areas very messy. While this might seem like a very clear-cut issue where the students simply need to return the furniture and clean their mess, Restorative Justice discovered a more complicated story. In addition to essentially eliminating the use of the common area for other residents, the students created a hassle for housekeepers and negatively impacted admissions groups who had come through on tours. The students were able to come up with creative solutions to help repair the harms they caused like a big spring-cleaning event they led before a big admissions event. This is a great example for helping reveal deeper issues caused by an instance and more creative ways those responsible can fix things instead of just being punished.
One prominent example of Restorative Justice in Lincoln County is the Ohana group in Eddyville. Ohana is a student led group that focuses on building community and resolving conflicts within the Eddyville Charter School. The students meet regularly and train themselves to be prepared to serve in circle processes. Some of the things that really make Ohana an exceptional group are that they are internally driven, they consistently strengthen their community, and they hold students accountable to the community.
Teen Justice Panels
Another example would be the Teen Justice Panels through PAADA. While they do not utilize a circle process, the Teen Justice Panels bring in community peers to help with juvenile issues in the county. By bringing in a panel of other local teens, they are able to better understand why the offender has acted as they have, are better able to relate to the offender and work cooperatively with them, and are better able to show how the offender’s actions are impacting the community. This can help create a much more accountable process and provide many benefits for offenders and the community that aren’t possible through traditional courts.
Oakland Unified School District
Oakland Unified School District has an extensive Restorative Justice program to help serve all of their schools and students. You can check out a video of one of their reentry circles here. The circle was to help a student come back from a suspension to receiving the support they needed to be successful looking forward. You can also check out their full website here.
There are many different examples of Restorative Justice being used successfully around the country. Many residential colleges use Restorative Justice in their dorms, charter schools are changing their student conduct procedures, and individuals are being held accountable to their negative impacts on a community while also building their connection to that community.
OCCC believes in four core principles that provide a foundation for Restorative Justice on campus:
- Conflict causes harms
- Harmed parties deserve to have their harms repaired
- Harmed parties deserve the right to help determine how their harm should be repaired
- Responsible parties are obligated to repair the harms they caused
*Harms are any negative consequences that result from an issue*
Because Restorative Justice is a very direct approach and can be difficult for people to do, OCCC has outlined the following values to guide Restorative Justice on campus:
- Intentional Accountability
Many community members may have some responsibility that is discovered through RJ processes and should be accountable for the harms they have caused
- Inclusion of All Parties
- All effected parties should have the chance to participate in the resolution process and the repairing of the harms
- All parties should be equally valued regardless of identities
- Acknowledging Other Sides
- Participants must hear and acknowledge others’ perspectives without judgment
- Reintegrating Responsible and Harmed Parties
- All parties have their relation to their communities harmed
- Participants should be empowered to take actions towards returning to a positive relationship with their community
- Safety for All Parties
- Anyone involved with RJ must feel that they are safe from harm during the process so that they can fully be present and fully participate
- Human Centered
- Justice addresses the harms to the people involved and understands events, thus deciding how to respond to issues should focus on the individuals involved
The responsible party must have voluntarily accepted guilt and a desire to make right whatever harms they have caused
RJ practices must be voluntarily entered by the parties involved and not forced upon them or used to achieve lesser sentences for the responsible party
There are many benefits to using Restorative Justice over more traditional and punitive methods. They can range from lower rates of recidivism, lower operational costs, and lower rates of expulsion or incarceration. However, one of the biggest benefits is the highly level of satisfaction that victims feel after going through a restorative process. Many who have gone through both a traditional and restorative approach claim that the restorative methods put more effort on their needs and helping them to recover instead of just compounding punitive sentences on those responsible. While many still prefer punitive measures as a part of Restorative Justice, what those measures are can be influenced by those who were negatively impacted. One of the biggest differences people praise is that there are direct actions taken to help return harmed individuals to the regular life they had been leading. Many traditional methods ignore those who were negatively impacted and instead only punish those responsible. Restorative Justice has those responsible for causing harms be responsible for repairing harms and helping better the situation.
The biggest impact Restorative Justice has on people who cause harm is the emotional impact. Many offenders never actually confront those who they harmed and are isolated from the damage they caused. Restorative Justice instead puts them into contact with them and has them take full responsibility for their actions and the following consequences.
While there are many other benefits to Restorative Justice, those are the ones that most directly impact the individuals going through the process, our students. These benefits help them to learn and grow from whatever issues they may face and prevent compounding different problems onto them as a part of a resolution.
Referring a conflict to Restorative Justice
If you have a conflict that you think could benefit from a Restorative Justice approach, consider if the conflict meets these guidelines:
- Clear harm has been done and the harmed parties are easily identified
- The responsible parties have admitted guilt and shown remorse
- The harmed parties have expressed a willingness for restorative practices
While it is possible to still have a successful restorative intervention without meeting all of these, they make up the ideal situation. If these guidelines are met, the chances of causing more harm through the process is significantly lower than if they are not met.
If you have questions about Restorative Justice at Oregon Coast Community College, please reach out to Ben Kaufmann at firstname.lastname@example.org or Layton Spence at email@example.com
Additional Resources for Further Learning
Academic Impressions has a quick article introducing some of the basics of Restorative Justice in student conduct situations.
The Center for Justice and Reconciliation has a crash course about Restorative Justice.
OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) has a very well-developed website with information about Restorative Justice and really great example videos.