Restorative Justice Project
New York Law School offers a restorative perspective for students, practicing lawyers, and others who work within and outside the legal system to learn about, develop skills, and engage in the field of restorative justice.
At a time of growing support for serious reform of the legal system, restorative justice offers a holistic approach to the resolution of conflict and promotes healing from harm through a restorative process, rather than a protracted adversarial process that can lead to further harm. Contemporary practices of restorative justice are derived from community-centered justice as practiced by indigenous peoples around the world, including those in the United States, Latin America, Africa, and New Zealand. Those who take the opportunity to learn about restorative justice find that it fills gaps not addressed by the legal system and recognizes the humanity in people who have caused harm and those suffering from it.
In the criminal context, restorative justice enables those harmed by crime, and those responsible for that harm—when they consent voluntarily—to actively participate in the resolution of matters arising from the offense, through the help of a trained and impartial third party. Restorative practices can also be implemented after war or genocide or other government-imposed harm and become part of a process of transitional justice. It incorporates the principles of healing, taking accountability, a commitment to building or restoring relationships, and deferring to the voices and needs of the stakeholders themselves, rather than having lawyers speak for the parties and a judge determine the outcome. Restorative practices have also been implemented for community-building, supporting re-entry after incarceration, addressing toxic or harmful work environments, addressing classroom or school conduct issues, or healing emotional harm in non-legal disputes.
NYLS’s Restorative Justice Project, directed by Professor Susan Abraham, makes the institution one of a small group of law schools at the forefront of incorporating these principles into its curriculum, combining the theoretical study of restorative justice with teaching basic restorative practices and offering students restorative justice externships within government agencies and nonprofits in New York City. The Restorative Justice Project grapples with questions about how restorative justice can fit into the study and practice of law; what form restorative practices can take within communities, schools, nonprofits, district attorneys’ offices, criminal defense work, and the courts; where it can be offered as a tool after hate speech and hate crimes or race-, ethnicity-, or gender-based violence; and how to develop and identify best practices.
The Restorative Justice Project has introduced new courses and collaborated with existing courses on transitional justice, assisted faculty in incorporating restorative concepts into existing courses, presented on restorative justice issues at other law schools, colleges, and conferences across the United States and internationally, drafted policy statements for use by elected officials, organized symposia, hosted speaker panels, and previewed films. NYLS also has built a deeply engaged Restorative Justice Law Student Association that offers community-building restorative circles for law students and other related events throughout the year.