IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Students make amends through Restorative Justice
The Restorative Justice program at CU-Boulder has come a long way since 1999, when CU became the first university in the nation to begin a pilot program offering students who got themselves into trouble a chance to make amends with injured parties while avoiding court.
Restorative Justice is available to students who are first-time offenders of mostly nonviolent crimes, such as hosting or attending a loud party. Rather than going to trial or pleading guilty, these students take a plea bargain and agree to go through CU’s Restorative Justice program.
“The Restorative Justice program allows students to take responsibility for their actions by talking with community members and learning how their negative actions have affected others in the community that they live in,” said Gina Bata, CU-Boulder’s Restorative Justice program coordinator since fall 2006. “The majority of students who have gone through the program report to us that they learned from their mistake and the large majority of them don’t get into trouble again.”
Once the student offender has agreed to participate in the program, they have agreed to take responsibility for their actions. One of the main components of the program is a group conference centered on the student’s violation and how it affected specific victims or the community in general.
Bata has 25 student facilitators who work with an additional 40 community members to host these group conferences. The majority of cases involve “quality of life” and low level violence violations, and are handled by a Community Accountability Board, which is made up of the three community representatives and two student facilitators.
During the conference, the student offenders, student facilitators and community members discuss the offense and agree on a plan to “right the wrong,” according to Bata. This could involve community service, letters of apology or a number of other possible solutions.
“One of the best things about Restorative Justice is that people in the community are also given an outlet and a chance to offer input to students to help them understand their community, and to talk about how their actions affect others living near them,” Bata said.
The Restorative Justice program is housed in the Office of Judicial Affairs and also partners with the Boulder City Attorney’s Office in cooperation with the Boulder Municipal Court. It has handled more than 300 cases so far in the 2008-09 school year.
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