CANTON, Mo. -- Students in the criminal justice and legal studies programs at Culver-Stockton College are learning about alternatives to using punishment as a way to manage misbehavior.
One alternative approach being used with greater frequency is called "restorative justice." It involves bringing together the victim of an offense with the perpetrator -- along with other affected family and community members -- to discuss how the offense impacted those involved and to reach a mutual agreement on what should be done to make things right.
The goals in restorative justice call for compensating the victim in a meaningful way, representing the community's interests and holding the offender accountable for his actions.
A demonstration of this approach was played out Monday morning at Meaders Lounge in the Gladys Crown Student Center on the C-SC campus.
Nine students in Melody Schroer's Alternative Dispute Resolution course performed roles in a mock restorative justice mediation group.
The group acted out a scenario in which a young man was caught stealing candy and soda from a local store. The store's owner chased the perpetrator outside, where a police officer stopped the young man.
Rather than arrest the perpetrator and run him through the traditional criminal justice system -- a process that would normally result in a court case that could lead to jail time, probation and a criminal record -- the officer opted to use the restorative justice approach.
In this case, and victim and the perpetrator sat in a "community restorative circle" with several mediators and facilitators. Also on hand were the police officer, the young man's father and a community representative.
"We are not trying to look at who's a good person or who's a bad person. We're not here to cast judgment. The only goal in this event is to restore the community and look at how the community has been affected by the offense of this act," announced Brett Colton, who served as one of mediators in Monday's exercise.
"This is an alternative to criminal proceedings," Colton told those assembled. "So hopefully at the end of this, we'll come up with a resolution which will avoid jail time or probation for the crime that was committed."
As it turned out, the mediation session led to a decision by the affected parties that the young man who stole the candy and soda would make amends to the store owner by working part time at the store, without pay, every day after school for two weeks. At that point, if a bond of trust has been formed between them, the owner would allow the young man to keep working part-time, for pay, to help improve his financial situation.
At the conclusion of Monday's demonstration, Colton said he believes the restorative justice approach would be especially beneficial to someone who doesn't already have a criminal record.
"The prison systems in this country tend to cause repeat offenders, and I feel if we keep people out of those systems, then that's where the most benefit comes in -- regardless of whether it's someone who's 14 or 30," he said. "If we can keep them from going down the wrong path at any age, I feel like this is what that's for."
Camryn Frese, who also played the role of a mediator, said she sees value in the restorative justice approach.
"For someone who wants to be a lawyer, I feel that this is very beneficial because instead of just getting all the facts out and deciding who's right or wrong, it's getting deeper into their feelings and how it affected them and how it's going to affect their future."
Schroer, an associate professor of legal studies and department chair of criminal justice and legal studies, said restorative justice is being used "in a variety of settings" across the country.
"It's being used in schools in place of discipline," she said. "It's also being used in prisons to not only take care of issues that occur during prison, but to allow prisoners who have been convicted of more serious crimes to try to make amends with their victims."
In Missouri alone, she said, more than 14 counties use restorative justice -- sometimes in place of the juvenile justice process.
A chief goal in all of this, she said, is to keep people out of the nation's overcrowded jails and prisons while still delivering justice to the victims of crimes.
"You want to make sure that not only is the victim being somehow compensated and made whole, but we're making sure that the perpetrator understands the effect of their crime so that, hopefully, they won't do it again."