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INNOVATIVE TEACHING Restorative Justice

BY BRENDA LANGE

We became a group that worked together on the solution of different issues that arise from the community … expressing our feelings … working together and doing nothing to harm the other. Today, we stand as a group representing our College, reflecting restorative justice methods. — 2011 student evaluation

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ll too often, a victim of a crime is victimized twice. First, by the attacker, and secondly, by the criminal justice system, which does nothing to help heal the victim’s trauma.

prison pipeline. While not in widespread use within the existing U.S. criminal justice system, it’s growing and is being used in all levels of criminal justice work.

The traditional system is punitive: A crime is committed, the offender is caught and punishment is imposed. Along the way, additional damage often is done to those against whom the crime was perpetrated, his or her family members and those in their community, and even against the offender. About 30 years ago, a new theory of justice arose — partially based in practices of indigenous cultures around the world — that emphasizes repairing and healing the harm inflicted by criminal behavior.

The approach also is being used in social work and community settings in this country. In others, such as New Zealand and Australia, it’s been adopted in all types of criminal cases.

About 15 years ago, Sara Ellen Kitchen, J.D., professor of criminal justice, attended a conference sponsored by the Pennsylvania Juvenile Probation Association where she learned about the restorative justice approach and was intrigued. She felt it meshed perfectly with CHC’s mission of social justice and instituted a course in restorative justice at the College a few years later.

Restorative justice can take place years before or after a crime is litigated, even during incarceration or after. Even with prisoners on death row. But the restorative justice process is always voluntary on the part of all the participants. Many states, including Pennsylvania, provide for victim-offender mediation and, according to Kitchen, evidence from these encounters suggests they are healing for both the victim and the offender, although the process is always victim-centered. “If an offender enters into this process, they are often changed internally because they acknowledge the harm they have done to another human being, not an anonymous person, but someone they now have come to know. It’s the human encounter that makes the difference,” she says.

Professor Kitchen was the first female public defender in Bucks County, working primarily with juveniles, and developed the criminal justice program at CHC. She was chair of the Sociology, Criminal Justice and Human Services Department for 17 years and a Lindback awardee for distinguished teaching. “Restorative justice is an alternative paradigm to what we have now in our present criminal justice system,” she explains. “What we have now is: There is the law, someone who broke it and options for punishment. Restorative justice is: What is the harm that’s been caused? Who needs to be addressed about it? How can that harm be repaired?” But it is not, in any way, an excuse for criminal behavior. Already in place in many school systems, where it’s used to address bullying, the process is considered effective in breaking the school-to-

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“Something has to be done [in this country],” says Kitchen. “Our mass incarceration is not sustainable. We have almost 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. This wreaks havoc on families, communities and more.”

METHODS OF RESTORATIVE JUSTICE Three main processes are used to implement the restorative justice process. One is victim/offender mediation, in which a mediator works with both parties to openly discuss who they are and what occurred to/by them and how that action has impacted their lives. The second is family group conferencing, which is often used in child welfare cases and juvenile court.

Chestnut Hill College Magazine Fall 2015  
Chestnut Hill College Magazine Fall 2015