Friday, March 13, 2015

Restorative Justice: Theory Meets Application – 2015 HNLR Symposium

By Daisy Wu ’16

JS44265314On February 28, 2015, the Harvard Negotiation Law Review (HNLR) proudly presented its ninth annual symposium, “Restorative Justice: Theory Meets Application,” a full-day conference on how restorative justice principles may be applied to different areas of practice.

The symposium began with opening remarks by Rachel Viscomi, Assistant Director of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program. Ms. Viscomi reflected on recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and the ways in which our current criminal justice system contributes to disconnection and disenfranchisement. In this way she framed the symposium as an examination on how restorative practices might assist in the reformation of the U.S. judicial system.

The first panel, “Bringing a Theory to Life: Origins, Expectations, and Realization,” focused on the evolution of the theory of restorative justice and its relationship to other theories of punishment. Moderated by Sonja Starr, three leading academics in the field—Annalise Acorn, Mark Umbreit, and Daniel Van Ness—engaged in passionate dialogue on the merits and failings of restorative justice as a system. The session also included conversation on the potential for restorative justice to address various social ills in society.

The second panel, “Victims in Restorative Justice,” discussed the victim-centered approach in restorative justice that contrasts with other theories of punishment. Moderated by Daniel Van Ness, the panel featured the Hon. John Cratsley (Ret.), the Hon. Janine Geske (Ret.), Pierre Berastain, and Karen Lischinsky. The panel focused on the meaning of a “victim-centered” approach, why that emphasis is important and whether it’s important to actual practice, and whether restorative justice is indeed, in actual practice, victim-centered. Also discussed was the importance of a community to the work. The panelists, all of whom are experienced practitioners, shared personal anecdotes of restorative justice from the field.

The third panel, “Empowering Youth Through Restorative Justice,” explored the potential of the work to make a positive impact on the lives the young people. The panel was moderated by Mark Umbreit and featured the Hon. Jay Blitzman, Erin Freeborn, Christine Agaiby, and Chandra Banks. The group discussed the positive impacts of restorative justice against the backdrop of more traditional disciplinary systems in schools, offering personal recollections of its great benefit. Of particular focus was an assessment of why youth respond more positively to a system that encourages them to take responsibility for their actions.

HLS Dean Martha Minow gave the afternoon address, in which she highlighted the importance of alternative forms of justice, especially in their application to international conflicts. She shared reflections on her own work examining truth and reconciliation systems in post-conflict societies and with former combatants, especially child soldiers. Following Dean Minow was the fourth and final panel of the day, “Restorative Principles in Transitional Justice.” The panel was moderated by Adriaan Lanni, and included Timothy Longman, Carl Stauffer, and Pushpi Weerakoon. They explored the intersection between restorative and transitional justice practices: the effectiveness of restorative justice during times of political transition; benchmarks of success in transitional justice; and unique challenges in applying restorative justice to this area. Examples emerged from the speakers’ personal experiences in myriad countries.

To close the symposium, Massachusetts state Senator James B. Eldridge delivered the keynote address speaking on the legislative challenges associated with trying to pass Bill S.52—an Act promoting restorative justice practices in the Commonwealth. Senator Eldridge spoke passionately about the need to reform the criminal justice system, and audience members engaged in a lively question-and-answer session about both the Act and about the political process in Massachusetts

HNLR is grateful for the support of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program and other co-sponsors who made the Symposium possible: Milbank Tweed, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and Triad Consulting Group. Free streaming videos of each panel are available at the symposium website.