UTSA criminal justice Professor Robert Rico is at the forefront of proposing the implementation of the Restorative Justice Initiative within UTSA and campuses nationwide. The Restorative Justice Initiative aims to provide peaceful conflict resolution between opposing parties before violence erupts or traditional disciplinary actions occur. Furthermore, it is increasingly used within schools to lower the risk of violence among youth minority and disability students entering the school-to-prison pipeline.
The school-to-prison pipeline involves students who get into trouble within schools and are often times met with disciplinary policies and practices leading to potential expulsion or alternative school placement. Rico expressed his concerns about the dangers of the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Students then have a higher chance of getting into trouble with law enforcement and being a part of the juvenile criminal justice system. Once they are exposed to the system the likelihood of the student returning back to school is very slim and the cycle continues,” Rico said.
Rico feels the Initiative will further support President Eighmy’s Initiative on Inclusive Excellence.
“Building the UTSA community with an inclusive process as well as building relationships on campus [is important],” Rico said. “Often times, conflicts are a misunderstanding between groups that can be solved through peaceful dialogue.”
Rico suggested that the initiative will help individuals at UTSA and around the nation that aim to settle disputes between citizens and improve relationships with law enforcement.
“I was a police officer for 20 years. One thing Restorative Justice did for me was it helped me build relationships a lot easier. I believe right now between law enforcement and individuals in the community there is a misunderstanding of each other. Restorative Justice is a tool to be able to have hard conversations and not be judgemental to one another,” Rico said.
Several students feel the Restorative Justice Initiative will be beneficial to themselves and peers.
“Restorative Justice allows a situation to receive closure on both sides. It benefits my peers and I because it allows us to see things from one another’s viewpoint,” Noah Flach, UTSA sophomore, said.
“Restorative Justice will ensure student safety because diffusing a situation before it gets extreme can help avoid physical conflict,” Jené Rigaud, UTSA junior, said.
Rico hopes to have the program implemented within about a year. Upon implementation, student volunteers will become Restorative Justice facilitators through training. The volunteers will develop skills such as adept listening, empathy for individual’s issues and understanding of different cultures. Rico is optimistic that UTSA faculty will also be trained by the program to ensure situations in classrooms are diffused before conflict erupts.