What is Restorative justice and why should we care about implementing an alternate system to address criminality and misconduct?

Restorative justice emphasizes the value of communication and emotional healing. A response for persistent interpersonal violence and harassment has been a call for more accountability on behalf of the people who cause harm.

Why do we need something different?

The current systems just don’t work for most people facing workplace sex harassment. First, most people do not report workplace sex harassment or assault. And a recent TULDF report shows those that do report often face retaliation. And even when survivors report and are believed, they often end up leaving the jobs or career where the harassment happened, and have a hard time finding work.

In schools, policies are often ineffective at addressing interpersonal violence and harassment. Policy responses have disproportionately focused on criminalization and punitive measures, which directly fuel the school-to-prison pipeline. Disciplinary approaches may produce greater resentment, backlash, and disparate treatment.

Implementing a restorative justice practice can be beneficial for both parties. In most cases, it reduces instances of post-traumatic stress for the survivor, and the person who caused harm has the chance to take responsibility and make amends with the survivor and the community. This can reduce feelings of isolation which can reduce recidivism rates once the person who caused harm understands it is possible to positively reintegrate into the community.

What does restorative justice look like and how can it be implemented?

The survivor, person who caused harm, and additional parties affected by the harassment can come together in many ways. Restorative justice practices can take the form of community service, intimate ask and answer forums, and mediation.

Since survivors’ goals don’t always align with those of the criminal justice system, restorative justice is an alternate route that shifts problem resolution from the police to victim-offender mediation.

Workplaces could integrate restorative approaches into the options available to workers who raise sexual harassment complaints and misconduct complaints. Julie Goldscheid, a professor at CUNY School of Law, wrote extensively about the role of restorative justice practice in the workplace.

School districts could implement a similar strategy, decrease the use of disciplinary policies that isolate students labeled as “troublemakers,” and offer opportunities for conflict resolution through mediation and other forms of reflection.

Laws and policies should incentivize approaches that promote reflection, responsibility, behavior change, and repair of harm—values consistent with restorative approaches.

A common criticism of restorative justice is that resources are being used to help the person who caused harm. However, resources are primarily used to uplift survivors and the community. Throughout the restorative process, the person who caused harm is more likely to take responsibility and feel welcomed back into a space where change is possible and encouraged.

Implementing restorative justice practices in lieu of traditional, punitive responses can be more beneficial to the survivor, the person who caused harm, and the community at large. Hopefully, we will continue to garner support for this relatively new response to criminality and accountability in society.

Learn more from our guest speakers and about restorative justice practices in the workplace.

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