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Restorative Justice For College Code Violations

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Restorative Justice For College Code Violations


Most colleges and universities across the country have codes of conduct in place, with specific outlined procedures when a student is accused of violating the code of conduct. Depending upon the college or university, a code of conduct might also be known as an honor code, or another named document specifying expectations for student behavior and conduct in classrooms and on campus more generally. Many colleges and universities have judicial-like bodies that review violations of the code of conduct in hearings, and these hearings are largely retributive in nature. To be clear, these bodies, panels, or boards—they can have many different titles—are tasked with determining whether or not a student violated the existing code or policy, and then they are typically tasked with issuing an appropriate punishment for the violation. In most cases, a student who is found “guilty” of violating an honor code or a code of conduct will face penalties such as a suspension or even expulsion from the college or university.

While this type of retributive or punitive approach mirrors much of the U.S. justice system more generally, some colleges and universities are beginning to consider the benefits of a restorative justice approach. Rather than employing traditional disciplinary procedures with the aim of punishing the student and deterring other similar behavior from students in the future, a restorative justice approach may be able to promote dialogue, healing, and improved well-being.

What is Restorative Justice?

In order to learn more about the potential for restorative justice solutions as an alternative to traditional disciplinary procedures during conduct code hearings, it is important to understand the basic tenets of a restorative justice approach.

According to the Centre for Justice & Reconciliation, restorative justice might be defined as “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior,” which is “best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet.” Ultimately, according to the Centre, a restorative justice approach “can lead to transformation of people, relationships, and communities.” Generally speaking, restorative justice approaches have three major elements:

  • First, restorative justice approaches must involve an element of repair. Whether a crime or violation occurs in broader society or on a college campus, there must be a recognition that a violation of an existing law or code has caused harm, and that “justice requires repairing that harm.”
  • Second, any restorative justice approach must involve an “encounter” between or among the parties involved. Each encounter may be different and distinct, depending upon the facts of the case. In most situations, a restorative justice approach seeks to have the parties make a decision together about what an encounter could look like. The underlying idea here is that the resolution of a crime or a violation should involve not only the party accused of a violation, but also any party who has been affected.
  • Third, and finally, restorative justice must have an element of transformation, or “fundamental changes in people, relationships, and communities.”

Restorative justice is certainly not a new idea, although it is a relatively new approach for many college and university communities when it comes to code of conduct violations.

How Might Restorative Justice Be Applicable in the Context of College Code Violations?

In the college and university setting, the idea of restorative justice might apply in the following type of scenario: A student is accused of violated the school’s code of conduct for making a racist statement or engaging in sexual misconduct in the form of “unwanted sexual touching.” Rather than the student being suspended or expelled after being found “responsible” (i.e., “guilty”) for the violation, the two parties instead would engage in mediate dialogue and activities—by mutual agreement—that seeks to educate and change behavior in a positive manner, rather than involving a purely punitive response.

Accordingly, colleges and universities that are using a restorative justice approach are largely still retaining their honor code boards or hearing boards that make a decision about a code of conduct violation. However, the restorative justice approach applies instead of a purely punitive reaction to the student being found “responsible” for a violation of the code of conduct. By taking a restorative justice approach, colleges and universities are working to reintegrate the parties into the campus community.

Potential for Restorative Justice Solutions Instead of Traditional Disciplinary Procedures

A number of colleges have developed restorative justice solutions for code of conduct violations, and most of these solutions take a flexible approach. To be sure, restorative justice solutions may have underlying guiding principles, yet the principles usually are applied in different ways depending upon the facts of the case. For example, the University of Kentucky uses the following guiding principles for its restorative justice approach:

  • Inclusive decision-making
  • Active accountability for the offender
  • Repairing harm
  • Rebuilding trust

Siena College explains that restorative justice often works to decrease recidivism, to increase the respondent’s sense of accountability, and to foster a greater sense of community on campuses. Siena College clarifies that its restorative justice approach has two primary components:

  • Including all parties to reach an appropriate solution to amend the harm
  • Reintegrating all parties into the community

Depending on the particular matter, Siena College has a variety of options that provide restorative justice solutions, including the following:

  • Community Accountability Boards in which communities discuss the impact of an offense on the broader community
  • Circles of Support and Accountability in which dialogue is facilitated between or among the parties
  • Victim and Offender Panels in which an offender expresses remorse and a victim explains the impact of the offense

Contact a National Code of Conduct Lawyer for Assistance

At Duffy Law, we provide representation to complainants and respondents in college code of conduct violation cases across the country. We know how complicated these cases can be, and we have years of experience serving students and their families in these difficult matters. If you have questions or need representation, an experienced national code of conduct attorney at our firm can help. Contact Duffy Law online today or call our office at (203) 946-2000.