A panel of local experts introduced UCSB to an alternative way of dealing with crime and punishment at a Tuesday discussion.
Four panelists spoke to an audience of 25 people at the Women’s Center Library about an unconventional approach to policing called “restorative justice.” The process involves both victim and offender input in deciding a penalty and resolution. In contrast with more traditional systems, restorative justice involves a meeting that includes the offender, two unbiased mediators and people that have been affected by the offense.
The panelists, which included UCSB Community Housing Office Manager Roane Akchurin, Office of Residential Life Judicial Affairs Coordinator Joyce Ester, Apartment Assignment Services Manager Amy Van Meter and Letters & Sciences Business Services Director Priscilla Mori, have experience in the practice of restorative justice and have each contributed articles to the recently published book, Restorative Justice on the College Campus: Promoting Student Growth and Responsibility and Reawakening the Spirit of Campus Community by David R. Karp
Akchurin said restorative justice has been gaining support at UCSB over the last two years as a grassroots effort. The I.V. Foot Patrol and Residential Housing Services have referred a growing number of cases to the local restorative justice committee, comprised of trained volunteers, rather than to the county district attorney. UCSB advocates aim to use this alternative approach to crime as a complement to the current university judicial system, not as a replacement.
Akchurin said restorative justice may not work for all cases, but success has been affirmed with minor offenses such as vandalism or UCSB Bookstore thefts. Ten new volunteers have recently been trained and the objective is to soon take on more serious cases.
The Women’s Center Program Director, and organizer of the event, Sharon Hoshida said the approach emphasized community.
“It’s a much more humanistic approach,” she said. “It fits my own personal philosophy in that we all belong to a community and everything you do does have an affect on your neighbors.”
Mori said she sees the approach expanding to include Halloween incidents, couch burnings and alcohol-related offenses, among other crimes predominant in the Isla Vista community. Currently, restorative justice advocates on campus are working to educate people about the process and petition UCSB administration for support, Mori said.
“[Restorative justice] creates an environment where there is respect, taking responsibility for what you do, where people are treated as individuals, not just numbers in a system,” Mori said.
Panelist Van Meter said the restorative justice process is based on the principles of repairing harm, earning trust and building community.
“It’s a process that’s not just about punishment. It’s a process that really balances these three things. Repairing harm is really the focus,” Van Meter said.
Ester said the process involves not only the people immediately affected by the crime, but those indirectly affected as well. Ester cited an example of a vandalism case in Boulder, Colo., where the groundskeeper who had to clean up the mess added his input to the trial. In another case, the wife of an injured police officer participated in the proceedings, though her only connection to the crime was spending the night worrying about her husband.
“Telling people the consequences of their actions is not the same as having to stare at the person whose window you broke,” Ester said.
Restorative justice is innovative in its inclusion of victims, largely ignored in the current judicial system and in its holistic approach to conflict resolution. A decision is made as to what the offender must do to repair the harm and restore his reputation to the community. The agreement reached follows three guidelines: It must be specific, measurable and achievable, Akchurin said.
The program has its roots in the practices of the Maori people of New Zealand, who work in a “relational kinship formulation,” Van Meter said. Restorative justice principles have shown up in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following apartheid in South Africa and are widely used in the United States juvenile justice system. Most recently, smaller universities such as Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, have implemented restorative justice into their university judicial system and larger universities, such as the University of Colorado at Boulder and UCLA, are beginning to follow the trend as well, Van Meter said.