By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
When Dr. Tori Murden-McClure, president of Spalding University, took the school’s helm in 2010, she vowed to make a difference in an education system that, she said, can lead from school to incarceration.
Today the Catholic university, founded by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, is on a course to do just that, McClure said.
On Sept. 29, Spalding University announced the creation of a new academic program — the Center for Restorative Justice — that aims to lower the rate of youth incarceration in Kentucky. Restorative justice focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through a process that offers the opportunity for reconciliation with victims and the community.
The new program is the result of a partnership between Spalding and Restorative Justice Louisville (RJL), a non-profit organization founded in 2011 that works with juvenile courts. The organization, whose office is on Spalding’s campus, offers the juvenile offender and the victim the opportunity to meet and work out their own solution, said Libby Mills, the executive director.
The program at Spalding, set to begin in the spring, will offer course work in restorative justice practices and a clinical component, much like the rest of the programs already offered at the university, said McClure.
For now, the program will offer a certificate, but McClure said she foresees a baccalaureate, master’s and even a doctoral program in the future.
McClure said restorative justice is about giving young people a second chance.
“It’s been my personal mission to have that school pipeline not run quite so dramatically to prison,” she said. One way to do this is to “put young people on the right path,” which is what restorative justice does, she said.
“Restorative justice is not a panacea,” she said. “If the young person fails in the restorative justice process, they end up in the juvenile justice system like they normally would. It’s a different way to think about the harm they’ve caused.”
She noted that the traditional justice system separates the victim from the person who caused them harm, allowing them to come face to face only in a court room.
“To be able to have the person who was harmed have a conversation with the person who harmed them and understand why and what they were thinking and how it changed their lives has a much greater impact,” said McClure.
Mills of Restorative Justice Louisville said the organization uses a three-step process. First there’s a meeting with young offenders and their families, where the process is explained to them. Then there’s a meeting with the victims and their families, where the process is explained to them and they decide what they need for a reconciliation.
The final step is a “family group conference,” where the victims and their family or supporters meet with offenders and their families or supporters.
The meetings are led by trained facilitators, many of whom are volunteers, said Mills. During the family group conference, both victim and offender have a chance to hear each other and come up with a way to repair the harm done by the offender. Restitution may be monetary or symbolic, such as involvement in an after school program, volunteer work in the community or attending counseling.
The traditional justice system “is a retributive process” that asks “who is responsible for the crime and how are you going to punish them?” said Mills. “With restorative justice we’re talking about who is impacted and how are we going to allow people who have gone down the wrong path to be accountable, so they can make amends and successfully come back into our communities.”
Circuit court judge Angela McCormick Bisig, who is the board chair for RJL, said restorative justice is “tough on crime,” because it changes the offender. “It holds offenders accountable for breaking the law and allows the youth who has wronged another to more fully comprehend the impact of hurting someone,” said Bisig.
The process allows them to see first hand the pain they’ve caused and helps them to think of how their actions affect others, Bisig said. “This is a very powerful deterrent to crime.” She also noted that victims having a voice in determining what the sanctions will be “helps them to feel that justice has occurred.”
At the heart of this new program, said McClure, is the tradition of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth “of meeting the needs of the times.”
“Spalding University is in a wonderful period where we are financially strong and able to return to the history of doing what is best for the community,” said McClure.
Restorative Justice Louisville operates with two paid staff members and currently has 50 volunteers. Since 2011, the non-profit has worked on nearly 400 cases. To learn more about restorative justice or ways to get involved, visit rjlou.org.