University of San DiegoUniversity of San Diego's (USD) newspaper, The Vista, has a story by Libby Jelinek about a one-year pilot to establish a restorative justice program on campus. They will be using conferencing in the areas of student discipline and peace circles for working through issues that affect the larger school community.

The one-year pilot program will implement restorative justice conferencing and peace circles to find solutions for issues in the campus community. The restorative justice process focuses on three main goals: to empower, to educate and to build relationships. Throughout the program, students are involved and invested in the decision-making process. The most valuable aspect of restorative justice, according to Darling, is that students learn another way to handle conflict in their lives, such that bringing the offender and impacted parties together can develop what would otherwise be a negative relationship into a positive one.

"Restorative justice is a lot of work, so there's a lot of learning being done," Darling said. "Research shows being punished does not stop people from doing things again, especially if the reason for their actions is still present in their lives. Restorative justice brings in the offender, impacted parties and the community, and asks, ‘What are our responsibilities to each other?' It brings everyone into the solution."

According to Darling, restorative justice conferencing is unique in its focus on communication between the offending party and the impacted party, particularly in cases when the two parties would not otherwise interact.

"Conferencing is an opportunity for students who are referred to the conduct office to have a chance to meet face to face with the individuals they have impacted, take responsibility, make amends, build relationships and move forward in a positive way through support from the campus community," Darling said.

As part of the conferencing process, Student Affairs may refer a student to the restorative justice program during a student conduct hearing. Two criteria determine a student's eligibility to participate: the offending party must take responsibility for the wrongdoing, and there must be potential for the impacted party to benefit from the process. When both conditions are met, the offender and the impacted party go through conferencing to develop an agreement which is then sent to the Director of Student Conduct to be reviewed.

Large-scale issues that affect the whole campus community will utilize peace circles. According to Darling, peace circles provide a safe space for students with varying values, experiences and backgrounds to discuss difficult topics. The protocol involves setting ground rules by a facilitator, gathering participants into a seated circle and passing a talking piece to allow all participants to speak. Peace circles create a safe structure, Darling said, so that students feel empowered to bring their personal experiences to the discussion.

The article also mentions the fact that restorative justice has spread to other universities around the world and cites IIRP's work in the City of Hull.

Universities across the United States have adopted restorative justice programs over the past decade, and countries around the world are incorporating the program into public policy. Northern Ireland is working on implementing restorative justice into its Youth Justice Agency, a branch of the government that handles all juvenile cases. The International Institute for Restorative Practices announced that Hull, England is trying to become a completely restorative city by fixing its broken economy with social regeneration. As part of the process, Hull community leaders who work with youth in the school systems, along with foster care, social services and police departments, will employ restorative practices.

On this note, good luck to Hull Restorative with its Restorative Practice Conference  this Tuesday and Wednesday, November 1 and 2, 2011.

For an article dealing with IIRP's pilot program for implementing restorative practices at the campus level, see this blog post, "University of Vermont in Second Year of Restorative Practices Implementation."

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