Coalition Announces Restorative Justice Policy

Proposal to be put to faculty vote

Current members of the Restorative Justice Coalition  Photo courtesy of Isabelle Sinclair

Current members of the Restorative Justice Coalition

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Sinclair

After several years of discussion and scrapped drafts, Reed’s Restorative Justice Coalition (RJC) has proposed a policy that seeks to establish an official restorative justice process at Reed. The policy, currently in the early stages of Reed’s legislative process, will be voted on by both Reed’s Student Senate and faculty over the coming months. If it passes, the policy would establish a student coalition to facilitate an alternative justice process as an addition or an alternative to the honor process.

The Restorative Justice Coalition is a student group founded in 2017, which describes itself as a “student-led organization seeking to transform the power dynamics perpetuated by traditional justice processes at Reed.” Over the past two years, the RJC, which currently consists of roughly ten members, has drafted and redrafted the eleven-page policy in an effort to introduce alternatives to Reed’s adjudication processes.

In their proposed policy, the RJC defines restorative justice as a process that “reframes the central questions of the justice system, by determining harm and collaboratively choosing reparations to foster healing.” Instead of pursuing a punitive, individual-based approach that relies upon centralized authorities determining laws and punishments, restorative practices seek to provide an “inclusive and cooperative” framework for conflict management, “grounded in intentional dialogue and the maintenance of accountability.”

If it passes, the proposed policy would establish an official Restorative Justice Coalition, whose members would serve as facilitators in a multi-step restorative justice process. The coalition would consist of one staff member and five students, two of whom would be designated as RJC chairs. With the exception of two members to be internally appointed by the chairs, the remaining members of the coalition would be appointed by Appointments Committee. Coalition members would receive a stipend and would be trained in restorative procedures and practices.

This proposed restorative process is voluntary, and it can be initiated by any Reed community member towards another. Members of the coalition would facilitate communication between the two parties, guiding them through a series of steps that include initial intake, pre-meetings, discussion circles, and follow up meetings. At the end of the process, parties may reach an agreement on reparations and deadlines for these reparations. Separate guidelines are provided for incidents involving sexual assault, which, as the policy states, present particularly sensitive and difficult cases.

According to Isabelle Sinclair ‘22, who currently serves as one of the two chairs of the Restorative Justice Coalition, two aspects of restorative processes are absolutely essential to RJC’s proposals. First, Sinclair emphasized the voluntary nature of the process; it cannot be initiated without the consent of both parties involved, and harmed parties retain the right withdraw from the restorative justice process and pursue disciplinary measures whenever they wish. Furthermore, Sinclair noted that the restorative justice approach can serve to empower individuals who were harmed and pave the way for healing in contrast to a combative approach to conflict resolution.

“Restorative justice centers on the individual who was harmed, and how they were impacted,” Sinclair said. “It focuses the process around getting that person what they feel they need to move forward.”

Importantly, Sinclair believes that restorative justice practices address existing problems with Reed’s existing adjudication processes. On the one hand, in comparison to mediation-based and J-Board processes which address harm caused by individuals to individuals, Sinclair thinks that restorative justice practices are uniquely capable of addressing harm and conflict to and within a community.

“One of the founding principles of restorative justice is that [it] tries to bring in as many community voices as possible to represent the harm that was done,” Sinclair said. “It can bring in other voices, [which is] a big strength.”

Furthermore, Sinclair emphasizes that, in contrast to traditional justice processes,  restorative justice practices require that individuals responsible for harm assume full responsibility for their actions. Sinclair believes that the punitive nature of existing judicial systems necessarily set up an opposition between individuals who inflict harm, and those experiencing it. On the other hand, restorative processes can only be initiated if the responsible party is fully willing to take accountability for their actions.

“In a circumstance when one person is clearly in the wrong, or wants to take accountability for having done wrong, restorative justice can provide a wonderful avenue for the parties to discuss ways [to move forward] in a way that empowers them,” Sinclair said. “It is a process which centers on the individual that was harmed [...] and focuses the process around getting that person what they feel they need to move forward. Our goal is to create a safe space so that people can feel like they have a voice.”

Assistant Dean for Restorative Practices Santi Alson served as a staff advisor for the RJC. Alson, who also works with Judicial Board and Honor Council, provided feedback to the students drafting the restorative justice policy, and collaborated with the RJC to provide campus education and training about restorative practices. Alson explained that Reedies have been consistently advocating for a more restorative response to harm and accountability for at least four years, while a sustained effort at passing a restorative justice policy has been underway for almost two years. Alson believes that the RJC will be successful in passing the restorative justice proposal, which would represent an “incredible accomplishment for these students and the Reed community.”

“The main benefits of a restorative justice approach are shifting the focus to harm and unmet needs, rather than punishment,” Alson said. “Restorative processes begin with an acceptance of responsibility, which hopefully leads to an increase in accountability. I view restorative practices and the Honor Principle as closely aligned; when harm occurs, we can work with all participants in a restorative process to determine what steps should be taken to try to make things right.”

Vice President for Student Services Mike Brody similarly expressed his support for the RJC proposal, and he thinks that restorative practices could address some of the issues with Reed’s existing judicial process. Furthermore, like Alson, Brody believes that a restorative justice approach would align with Reed’s Honor Principle.

“I think that our system has become more adversarial than it was intended to be,” Brody said. “What we’ve always tried to do is have an honor process that reflects the Honor Principle, and I think restorative practices could be a really effective reflection of the Honor Principle. As long as we’re all living together as [members] of the Reed community, we need a way to repair harm, and I think restorative practices are one way to do so.”

According to Brody, two aspects of the restorative justice proposal merit particular attention, especially in how they relate to existing judicial processes. Firstly, Brody emphasized that restorative practices should function as an addition to, and not a replacement of, existing adjudication processes.

“I don’t think you can do just restorative practices, and if so, we’re a long way off from that,” Brody said. “Adding restorative practices could improve the ways in which the community responds to harm, but they should not replace other forms of adjudication.”

Furthermore, like Sinclair, Brody emphasized the potential difficulties in applying restorative practices to incidents of sexual misconduct. “I think restorative practices have a great deal of promise in the arena of sexual misconduct, but it has to be done right,” Brody said. “Situations involving sexual harassment and assault are particularly complicated and involve a lot of power dynamics [...] it’s really important to think about how that plays out.”

At this point, the Restorative Justice policy is still in the early stages of the legislative process. During the next couple of weeks, the policy will be presented to both Senate and staff members. If approved, the policy must undergo faculty be discussed at a faculty meeting in March and voted on in April.