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October 20, 2010

Restorative justice provides alternative for managing conflict

Morgan Levy
Levy

An alternative to the judicial system called restorative justice is proving successful around the world in keeping youth offenders out of jail and reducing recidivism. Throughout September, this concept was talked about a great deal on campus and in the community thanks to Restorative Rochester, a weeklong series of events sponsored by the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and several local organizations. The workshops, lectures, and restorative circle practice sessions were led by Dominic Barter, who pioneered this approach in Brazil.

While Restorative Rochester organizers are working to set up pilot programs in schools, communities, and courts, this approach is also being implemented on campus.

Morgan Levy, who leads the University’s Center for Student Conflict Management (CSCM), says that she is working with administrators to make alternative dispute resolutions like restorative circles part of the campus culture.

“It’s about re-examining how we look at conflict,” she explains. “Instead of viewing an incident as a violation of a policy, we’ll look at it as a problem the community is experiencing. When we view it in that light, it requires us to address the problem as a community.”

Under the Dean of Students office, the CSCM serves as a resource for students, offering mediation, restorative circles, conflict coaching, and conflict resolution training as ways to deal with incidents.
 
With restorative circles, the system’s strength lies in its grassroots nature; the chief goal is to help all involved in a conflict understand why a person may have caused harm. Restorative circles provide an opportunity for all who have been affected to engage in dialogue about what happened, and for the group to come up with a solution to the problem. Before, during, and after the circle, facilitators and participants work together to create a safe environment for discussion and continue to meet to ensure that the solution is working. 

Around the world, the innovative approach is receiving much attention and acclaim and was recently praised by the UK National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts as “radically effective.” In their report, they noted that the Campinas Municipal School District in Brazil saw the number of student arrests drop by 98 percent after implementing restorative circles in their schools. In 2008, 71 police visits resulted in arrests; in 2009, only one police visit ended in an arrest.

According the Levy, at Rochester the approach can be used in a variety of situations, from disagreements among roommates to disputes between teammates on an athletic team.

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