James Madison University embraces restorative justice
Aug 25, 2011
In just three years, Josh Bacon has mobilized some 50 administrators and staff members in nearly a dozen departments sprawled across the 665-acre campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to embrace restorative justice practices when dealing with each other and with students.
Bacon says it is not a difficult “sell.” One person gets hooked on restorative justice and tells another person and soon a group evolves to attend a restorative justice short seminar, with some continuing to multiple-day trainings.
“The point is, RJ [restorative justice] works,” says Bacon. “And lots of other interventions used for years with students don’t.”
Here’s how Bacon himself came to RJ:
After more than a decade of ushering misbehaving students at JMU through hearings on their conduct, sanctions, and other legalistic steps, Josh Bacon was ready for a change in 2009.
“I went into educational leadership and student affairs because I cared about young adults and their futures,” he says. “But that’s not how they perceived me – they saw me as the ‘bad guy,’ somebody there to enforce the university’s rules, somebody who wasn’t on their side.”
So he took a course at EMU with restorative justice pioneer Howard Zehr. Before the semester was even over, he started applying Zehr’s teachings to his student judicial work.
“One of the biggest oversights in my [previous] work was not engaging the victim; my office was almost entirely offender focused,” recalls Bacon.