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Volume 3, Number 1, Oct 2002

Community Justice in the Campus Setting (page 2 of 4)

Community Justice

Community justice is an approach to criminal offending that emphasizes values of democratic participation, inclusion, and stewardship (Clear & Karp, 1999). This approach may be effectively extended to the college arena, where misconduct is not always illegal, but often a violation of campus honor codes and college policies. The approach seeks to educate community members about the need for civic commitment, and build student capacity for evaluating the impact of their behavior on the community. The approach seeks to legitimate college policies by creating not only due process, but consensus around behavioral standards, and equitable responses to misconduct. Offender accountability is central, but balanced with a concern for reintegration.

Community justice has four principal elements (Karp & Clear, 2002). First, the judicial system must be accessible to the community. The community must know of its policies, which should be communicated clearly with a minimum of legalese. Practices of the judicial system should be consistent and respectful, but not rigidly bureaucratic. Second, community members should participate actively in the process. On the college campus, this means that students should have active roles in the process, as would faculty, staff, and administration. Community involvement includes the active participation of offenders in the decision-making process. Equally important is the voice of victims or "harmed parties."

Third, sanctioning should be guided by restorative justice principles (Bazemore, 1998; Warters et al. 2000; Zehr, 1990). Here, offender accountability is defined not by proportional harm imposed on the offender, but by the offender's obligation to make amends for the harm he or she has caused. Bazemore and Walgrave (1999) define restorative justice as "action that is primarily oriented toward doing justice by repairing the harm that has been caused by a crime" (p. 48). If a window has been broken, the offender's obligation is to fix it. It is not possible for the offender to take responsibility for all types of harm; he or she, for example, cannot repair emotional harm. Nevertheless, the obligation remains for the offender to take steps towards ameliorating such harm through apology, expression of remorse, or victim-offender mediation. Communal harm can be repaired through community service work. Fourth, the offender also incurs an obligation to reassure the community that he or she will not cause further harm to the community. The community, in turn, must strive to reintegrate the offender. This reciprocal process begins with an identification of offender risk factors. If the offender needs academic tutoring, psychological counseling, or other competency needs, these should be made available.

Sanctions should be guided by the objectives of restoration and reintegration so that harm is repaired and offenders can become productive community members. Accountability is demonstrated through expressions of remorse and commitment, and through the completion of tasks negotiated as part of the sanctioning process.

We have a judicial board composed primarily of students, and secondarily of faculty and staff. The "Integrity Board" hears cases of both social and academic integrity, and negotiates restorative justice contracts for offenders to complete. Board members receive a substantial training and may receive academic credit for the training through our Law and Society Minor Program. Consider one recent case on our campus. A student was arrested for dealing cocaine. After serving time in state prison, the student applied to Skidmore to complete his senior year. He was admitted, but one of the stipulations required him to tell his story to other students so they might learn from his experience. For his project, he created a 30-minute video memoir, which the college uses as a platform for discussion about the risks of dealing drugs. While it was tempting to deny his readmission, enabling the student to take active responsibility for his behavior provided the campus with a new resource for discussing drug issues with the student body.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.


Correspondence to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.

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© 2000-2005 William C. Warters & WSU, All rights reserved.