Former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice discusses restorative justice at campus event

Wynne Davis

Restorative justice programs offer an opportunity for both the offenders and the victims of crimes to move forward, but the programs also help communities, Janine Geske, former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, said at an event on campus Tuesday.

Geske, who is now a law professor at Marquette University, said she has been involved in restorative justice programs for more than 15 years and has seen how much these programs can help often-imprisoned offenders as well as the survivors of the crimes years afterward.

Geske said she has worked with restorative justice including groups usually consisting of 25 imprisoned men and women. Geske invites members of the community such as judges, CEOs of large companies, members of the media, volunteers and victims to talk to the group about how they have been affected by crimes.

Geske also helps facilitate individual conversations between the offenders and the victims.

“We meet first with the survivor and have a conversation with them about what they’re hoping for,” Geske said. “There’s often a desire to tell the offender the deep impact that has occurred … there are often questions, particularly on homicides.”

Restorative justice programs are about harm, Geske said. She said the programs don’t just address criminal actions but can be used in schools dealing with bullying, college athletic programs and communities.

“The use of restorative justice in both public and private schools is growing … and I think it will become part of the culture,” Geske said.  “We need to address all the issues that are facing these kids as they come to school … and finding restorative approaches for them are not only going to resolve conflict and make them feel safer, but give them tools to work with in the future.”

Social work professor Marilyn Armour said UT does not have a restorative justice program. Armour said she helped create a program for Edward H. White Middle School in San Antonio and has seen great results.

“We implemented a program there a year ago … and we reduced out-of-school suspensions 87 percent and in-school suspensions 30 percent,” Armour said. “There’s a lot to be hopeful about and look forward to, but we as a society just have to put our investment there.”

Allyssa Milan, who attended the talk, said she is concerned about the growing number of people in prison, and sees this program as an outlet for them to discuss their remorse and other thoughts about the crimes they committed.

“Being able to give a voice to the offender is so important because they are human beings as well,” Milan said. “Helping them reconnect with humanity is how we can move forward in creating a more just world where both survivors and offenders can really heal.”