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Volume 3, Number 1, Oct 2002

Community Justice in the Campus Setting (page 3 of 4)

Rethinking Sanction and Embracing Restorative Justice

In a review of college judicial affairs practices, Dannells (1996) argues that the historical development of the field has moved away from retributive punishment and toward rehabilitation and the development of student self-discipline. Nevertheless, the continuum of sanctions is still defined by punishment and outcasting, rather than restoration and reintegration. Students are given warnings, their privileges are restricted (such as being preventing from participating intercollegiate sports or in other co-curricular clubs), they are removed from campus housing, suspended, or ultimately expelled. Thus, a student already operating at the margins of social acceptability is progressively outcast from membership in the conventional college community. The community justice approach promotes inclusion over social distancing, emphasizing instead sanctioning strategies that rebuild conventional social ties to the college community.

Central to replacing outcasting with reintegration is to shift the burden of sanctioning responsibility from the college to the student. While suspension and expulsion must be retained, they are anti-communitarian devices that should be minimized wherever possible. The removal of a student from the community is likely to displace the problem to another, less-fortified community without resolving it. We believe that suspension should be limited to two situations. First, colleges are not correctional facilities and when a student poses a threat to campus safety, removal may be necessary. Second, when a student refuses to participate in or learn from prior judicial proceedings, or a student fails to complete sanctioning tasks, then the student should be removed. Otherwise, the goal should be reintegration through the development of personal responsibility.

We advocate a new conceptualization of suspension called "self-suspension." Each student is obligated to repair harm and demonstrate his or her ability to be a member in good standing. A contract with the student should be negotiated and it should clearly detail what steps the student must take to regain social standing. While a student may apply to the board for an extension if necessary, in general, a student is not allowed to register for the following semester's classes until the contract is complete. Thus, a student who fails to comply with the college's expectations for responsible membership loses his or her right to participate in community life. The burden of responsibility is shifted from the college to the student.

Apology. In restorative justice, apology occupies a central place. Retzinger and Scheff (1996) argue that reconciliation is predicated on a core sequence: "This process involves the social rituals of respect, courtesy, apology, and forgiveness… The ideal outcome, from the point of view of symbolic reparation, is constituted by two steps: the offender first clearly expresses genuine shame and remorse over his or her actions. In response, the victim takes at least a first step towards forgiving the offender for the trespass. The core sequence generates repair and restoration of the bond between victim and offender, after this bond had been severed by the offender's crime" (p. 316). The sanctioning process, therefore, must begin with an acknowledgement of responsibility for the offense, articulated through an apology. Our apology guidelines require that letters contain (a) an acknowledgement of responsibility, (b) a delineation of how the behavior was harmful, (c) an expression of remorse, and (d) a commitment to making amends and socially responsible behavior in the future.

From Fines to Restitution. Restitution should be distinguished from fines. Fines are imposed as a punishment in order to deter the misbehavior and, presumably, to generate revenue. Restitution is collected in order to pay for lost or damaged property as a result of the offense. The amount of a fine is determined by the deterrent need, and is independent of the particular offense. Restitution is determined by the extent of harm. From the perspective of the offender, fines are likely to be perceived as arbitrary since the rationale for the amount is not transparent. More problematic, fines create moral ambiguity (Kahan, 1999). In a market society, goods and services have prices, but are morally neutral. If misbehavior is fined, the message of moral disapproval is easily obscured. Instead, we communicate that the behavior is acceptable, "if you can afford it." Restitution is paid in order to make amends. By clearly identifying harm, the offender learns why the behavior is morally unacceptable.

Enlightened Community Service. Community service is widely used in college judicial sanctioning, yet it is not often restorative. Community service can be misused as a retributive device. This is the case when it is merely a substitution for another punishment, scored on a rubric of punitive commensurability (Kahan, 1999)-40 hours of community service = $400 fine = 4 days in jail = 40 lashes of the whip. The symbolism suggests it is just one more type of pain that can be imposed on the offender. This is just the wrong message to send to someone in need of community reintegration. If service is used as a punitive deterrent, why would the offender embrace it as a positive expression of community membership?

Community service is central to a restorative approach when used correctly. As restitution should be distinguished from fines, so should restorative community service be distinguished from punitive service (Bazemore & Maloney, 1994). If a student vandalizes a campus building, community service would be necessary-the student should fix the damage, perhaps working alongside maintenance staff. In a recent case at Skidmore College, two dormitory roommates had removed lounge furniture to their room. As part of our judicial process, the students learned that the violation was not only harmful to the other residents by denying them a comfortable common space, but had broader effects on the college because visiting prospective students would only see unpleasant residential spaces. A contract was negotiated in which the two students would return the furniture, and clean the lounge (renting an upholstery cleaner) in time for an upcoming event in which large numbers of prospective students would be visiting the campus. The students were encouraged not to do this alone, but to organize a dorm-wide "spring cleaning." Their leadership would serve as a demonstration of their commitment to making amends and promoting school spirit.

Community service, properly understood, is a mechanism of reintegration for student offenders because it provides a venue for making their prosocial efforts visible to others, and fostering positive social ties with the campus community. It is also a means of reframing individual student misconduct as a community issue. Since the problems that appear before judicial boards generally speak to the broader issues of student culture (e.g., underage drinking and drug use), service projects linked to the offense become vehicles of community education. The student who uses hate speech might work with a diversity specialist to organize a campus event on multi-cultural issues; the drunk driver might work with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to bring a relevant speaker to campus; the student who downloaded a term paper from the internet might organize a session during freshman orientation regarding the standards of academic integrity. Community service sanctions may be endlessly creative as they seek to change the underlying social norms that reinforce individual misbehavior.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

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Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
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