As the restorative justice movement gains
traction on a national level, Skidmore College
has launched a program designed to advance
the movement’s principles and implementation.
The Skidmore College Project on Restorative
Justice will conduct research, teaching,
and training in restorative justice and offer
technical assistance for related initiatives
in schools, colleges, communities, and the
criminal justice system.
College officials said restorative justice is
based on a collaborative decision-making
process that includes offenders, victims, and
others seeking to hold offenders accountable.
The process requires that offenders
acknowledge responsibility for their actions,
take agreed-upon steps to repair the harm
they have caused, and work to build constructive
relationships and personal standing. A
number of formats can be used–often with
direct dialogue between the victim and offender–
that focus on prevention, reparation,
and rebuilding trust within a community.
“Instead of focusing only on punishing
offenders, restorative justice pays attention
to the needs of victims and communities. It
seeks reparation of harm, healing of trauma,
and reconciliation of interpersonal conflict,”
said David Karp, professor of sociology at
Skidmore and director of the college’s Restorative
“This form of justice can be highly effective
for crimes and school-based misconduct by
holding people accountable for their behavior
in ways that are meaningful to the victim and
community,” noted Karp.
He said research demonstrates that restorative
justice lowers recidivism rates, and
that the active participation of victims and
offenders leads to high levels of satisfaction
with the process. He said restorative justice
is applicable in settings ranging from K-12
school systems and college campuses to
criminal proceedings for juveniles and adults.
Karp called restorative justice a global
social movement with many traditions and
approaches, some of which have roots in
indigenous cultures. He said the movement
is expanding rapidly in the U.S., including at
the state level, with 32 states having legislation
that addresses this form of justice.
In Karp’s view, restorative justice must
have a place in the current push to reform
the nation’s criminal justice system, which is
marked by overcrowded prisons, high costs,
and racial disparity.
“There is a significant bipartisan effort at
high levels to make changes in criminal justice
in this country,” said Karp. “The success of the
criminal justice reform movement will depend
on the incorporation of restorative justice
principles because they provide a new way
to hold offenders accountable, but also offer
offenders the social support necessary to be
successful citizens in the future.”
Karp said a major goal of the Skidmore
project is to help form a New York state restorative
justice coalition that will lobby and
advocate for restorative justice legislation on
the state level.
In addition to Karp, the project’s associates
include Duke Fisher, a facilitator and trainer
for Leaning Labs, Inc.; Kaaren Williamsen,
Title IX coordinator at Swarthmore College;
Joao Salm, a professor of criminal justice at
Governors State University; and Jordan Nowotny,
professor of criminal justice at Farleigh
The Skidmore College Restorative Justice
Project is sponsored in part by First Fairfield
Associates, a social-enterprise investment
firm with an office in Saratoga Springs.
For more in information on the Skidmore
project, visit www.SkidmoreRJ.org.