What is Restorative Justice (RJ)?
Restorative Justice is a process used to address harm, hold others accountable, and build or repair community. RJ is derived from practices of the First Nation’s people of North America and Australia. It is used around the world in elementary schools, Institutions of Higher Education, Communities, and as an addition or alternative to processes in the criminal justice system.
A formal definition: Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet, although other approaches are available when that is impossible. This can lead to the transformation of people, relationships, and communities. The foundational principles of RJ include that a Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm. The people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution.
Videos that explain RJ:
Content Warning: discussion of sexual assault and rape.
This is an article written by Mary Koss, published in the Huffington Post, describing how Restorative Justice can be more beneficial than the criminal justice system for survivors of sexual assault.
Restorative Justice Conferencing at Rutgers
RJ is offered as an Informal Resolution option for Title IX or sexual misconduct cases. The Title IX office recognizes that the investigation process may not be appropriate for all cases or may not meet the needs of the Complainant Party. While an investigation can be validating for Complainants looking for the University to make a determination if a student’s behavior constitutes a violation of Rutgers policy, it can also be a very difficult process for everyone involved and parties may leave unsatisfied with the outcome.
Being an Informal Resolution option means it is a voluntary process that requires the harmed party, the harming party, and the Title IX office to agree to the process. RJ can be stopped at any time, by any party prior to an agreement being determined, and the case can go to an investigation. The University is not going to make a determination of responsibility, however, the harming party must acknowledge that their behavior cause harm and have some desire to try to repair that harm.
This video is a good comparison of the Justice system and the Restorative Justice processes. While Title IX is independent of a criminal or civil process, at times the investigation process can resemble parts of the criminal justice system. This video highlights how the two processes differ.
Some of the Complainant feedback on the Rutgers Restorative Justice process includes:
- This process “provided me with a sense of relief that effort will be made to better the situation.”
- This process “allowed me to receive an insight on the situation & motive behind the actions made.”
Some of the Respondent feedback on the Rutgers Restorative Justice process includes:
- “The explorations of mine and [Complainant’s] perspectives was done very well, I was shocked at times to hear things I had never even thought of.”
- The agreement process was very well done, it showed me a game plan that I could follow to alleviate the harm done to [Complainant] and to better myself.”
What does the process look like?
Restorative Justice Conferences provide harmed parties and others with an opportunity to confront the offender, express their feelings, ask questions and have a say in the outcome. Offenders hear firsthand how their behavior has affected people. Offenders may choose to participate in a conference and begin to repair the harm they have caused by apologizing, making amends and agreeing to personal or community service work. Conferences hold offenders accountable while providing them with an opportunity to discard the “offender” label and be reintegrated into their community, school or workplace.
Each party is able to have a support person with them at all times. Two facilitators will meet with each party and support people individually. These meetings are called Pre-Conference meetings, the purpose is to prepare each party for the Conference. This includes discussing the questions that will be posed in the Conference, digging deeper into the needs of each party, ensuring a safe space before, during and after the Conference, and if needed, providing education to the parties about the impact of their actions.
During the Conference, each party will have questions posed to them by the facilitators. The other party will be invited to listen and will wait to respond. The format of the Conference is structured to allow each party to speak about the incident and the impacts, and prevent people from being spoken over.
The Conference is centered on four main questions:
- What happened?
- What was the impact?
- What has been the hardest part?
- What is needed to make these things better?
After the questions have been answered, there is a review of harms and needs. The parties then discuss with the facilitators ways the harms can be addressed. The facilitators assist the parties in coming to an agreement about the outcome.
The wants and needs of the harmed party can vary greatly, no two cases end the same way. Some of the outcomes are simple and others are more involved, the goal is to meet the needs of the harmed party as best as we can in an effort to repair the harm caused.
This video is about a Conference that took place after a car was stolen. The needs of the harmed party were not necessarily conventional, but the outcome satisfied their needs and allowed the harming party to hold himself accountable and not re-offend.
I don’t feel comfortable being in the same room as my offender, are there other options?
Yes, seeing as this is a needs-based process, the facilitators would try to come up with an appropriate alternative to you meeting with the other party in person. This may include written statements, recorded statements, or video conferencing where you would not be required to see the other people. The goal is to still have the conference in a way that feels comfortable but also addresses the harm.
RJ is an option outside of the investigation process that is based around the needs of the person harmed. The Conference brings the harmed and harming parties together, to communicate directly or indirectly about the harms caused. Both parties must agree to the process. There is a preparation phase prior to the Conference to determine if it is an appropriate process. Both parties have the opportunity to have their say. The process is designed to be neutral and make both parties feel safe. At the end of the Conference the parties decide together how the harm can be repaired. Potentially including how the harming party can change or prevent the same behavior from happening again.