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Guelph-Humber research on Restorative Justice Frameworks to be presented in Atlanta

four students standing and discussing This month, University of Guelph-Humber assistant professor Laura MacDiarmid and a team of four Justice Studies students will present their research to some of the world’s top minds in criminology, public safety, cybersecurity, policing and criminal justice.

The group is attending the American Society of Criminology’s 77th annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia to present their findings on restorative justice frameworks. The meeting includes five days of workshops, roundtable discussions, and networking events. 

Fourth-year Justice Studies students Anna-Lisa Barrett, Sara Figliola, Noah Ramsammy, and Amtul Waseem have been working with MacDiarmid as research assistants, supporting her research exploring how different dynamics can lead to different outcomes for restorative justice programs.

“The opportunity to present our research at the American Society of Criminology conference is surreal,” Figliola said. “We all have been working diligently on our research to create an in-depth analysis of the project. Through this research process, I have learned a lot, and I am very thankful for this opportunity to mobilize our research with others in the field of criminal justice”.

“Being part of such an incredible team that has worked very hard on our research project is a privilege. This is such a huge accomplishment that we are all proud of, and that I will look back on for years to come throughout my career in law.”

Probing Processes in Restorative Justice

three students standing Restorative justice programs are often used as a diversion option for youth who are in conflict with the law. These frameworks aim to heal the harm done to victims and communities through a process of mediation, victim empowerment, negotiation, and reparation. MacDiarmid’s interest in the subject dates back to her own undergraduate education, when she volunteered with a community organization in London.

“Restorative justice really focuses on stakeholder involvement, dialogue, building consensus, reparation of harm — facets that are typically excluded in the justice system,” MacDiarmid said.

MacDiarmid’s recent research explores the outcomes of these restorative justice programs, as well as the different dynamics that might have affected how effective or ineffective the processes were.

To accomplish that, MacDiarmid and her team of Guelph-Humber student researchers interviewed 25 program coordinators who facilitate Youth Justice Committee programs, which are restorative justice programs in Ontario. The researchers connected with 60 percent of the agencies facilitating these programs, aiming to unearth insights into what makes a successful program as well as the factors that shape those outcomes.

Thus far, the team’s research has indicated that a variety of factors can have a serious impact on the efficacy of restorative justice programs, including the attitude of the victim, the disciplinary approach or presence of a parent or guardian, as well as a youth’s emotional and communicative competence.

“We found that when the right ingredients are in place, the programs can be very much transformational for all stakeholders. Relationships and healing can take place, reintegration into communities of care can happen, as well as the development of an emotionally intelligent system of justice. However, we found the success of these programs really hinges on several factors,” MacDiarmid explained.

students sharing the view “Our research suggests that we must look at restorative justice as a holistic process. There are important and unique factors that come into play with youth that need to be considered when we’re implementing these restorative justice programs.”

The student research assistants have contributed in a variety of ways. They have spent time transcribing interviews, sifting through raw data, conducting thematic analysis, coding the results, collecting existing literature, contextualizing existing findings, and ultimately writing out the results of their ongoing research.

For each of the students, assisting with MacDiarmid’s work has made academic research seem more accessible and appealing.

“I think this experience has definitely influenced my career and academic goals significantly,” Waseem said. “The prospect of a research assistantship, prior to this opportunity, was intimidating. Having done it now, however, I know that it’s not too far off from the research we must do in our courses”.

“In fact, a lot of what we’ve learned over the course of our four years in the Justice Studies program really prepared me for the work that was expected of us. Research is a chance for you to explore your curiosity with like-minded individuals, with support from your professors. It is for sure something that I would like to pursue in the near future.”

For the students who are participating, it has also been heartening to see the potential practical applications of the work they’re doing.

“This research project taught me that research significantly impacts, reshapes, and reforms the criminal justice system and those within it,” Ramsammy said. 

“I am now motivated to continue down the research path and explore further research interests of mine. My next step is applying to graduate school, and I hope to become a professor one day.”

Presenting and Publishing Their Findings

students standing and sharing view In addition to the potential academic outcomes of their research, MacDiarmid and her team are working on knowledge mobilization resources based on their findings that agencies can use for training, program implementation, and best practices.

They are also moving toward publishing the findings of their research, which would give the students the chance to be co-authors on a scholarly article — a rarity for a student in an undergraduate program.

“(One) reason I decided to get involved in this research project is because I know how fortunate it is to be offered something so rare as an undergraduate student. Becoming involved in this research project has revolutionized my experience as a Justice Studies student, and I cannot be more thankful,” Barrett said.

“So far, I know I am taking away a new love and appreciation with research from my experience.”

Another reason the research has been so rewarding is that the students feel they are doing meaningful work that could one day effect positive change. Now, they’re thrilled to share that work with an international audience.

“The best part of this opportunity is the fact that we are allowing others outside of the University of Guelph-Humber community to see and understand what Youth Justice Committees are, and how this program model of restorative justice truly works,” Barrett said.

“I never truly understood the entirety of this amazing program until doing this research, and I hope everyone that hears our presentation can see how important it is to have programs like the Youth Justice Committee be implemented in the justice system.”