Posted on May 2, 2018 by Jana Schwartz

Photo of Robert Rico

(May 2, 2018) — Robert Rico is a lecturer in the UTSA Department of Criminal Justice and the assistant director of the Office of Community and Restorative Justice in the College of Public Policy.

Rico specializes in restorative justice and police-community relations. His work advances policing methodologies by using restorative justice and community policing philosophies. He co-authored the book "Restorative Discipline and Practices" with Dr. Gayle Lang.

We sat down with professor Rico this week to learn about his work in restorative justice.

Can you tell us about the pathway that led you to UTSA?

Growing up on San Antonio's west side, social and economic conditions shaped my life. Some of my childhood friends dropped out of school and eventually got involved with the criminal justice system.

I decided that education would be a pathway that would lead me to better opportunities. I'm a first-gen graduate of UTSA.

You always have lots of projects going on at once. Can you talk about your research in restorative justice?

My journey in restorative justice (RJ) began during my career in law enforcement. I felt that traditional punitive justice does not allow offenders the opportunity repair the damage done.

As a juvenile investigator from 1994 to 2000, it was clear to me that some of the youth who were committing crimes were reoffending. The same names appeared on the reports. They were being prosecuted but their behaviors didn't change. Somehow, we expected a different result from punishment.

I needed to change the way I did policing. Something about the traditional justice process didn't feel right to me. I thought there had to be another way other than punishment to hold people accountable for their actions—an intervention.

During my tenure as a police officer, I developed and served as program coordinator of the Restorative Justice Program of Kendall County. In the fall of 2012, I spearheaded and was a field consultant for a restorative justice pilot program at Edward White Middle School here in San Antonio. This program planted the seed in bringing restorative justice practices to Texas public schools. Most recently, I led the effort to bring restorative justice processes to UTSA to supplement student conduct policies.

Criminal law is not strictly black and white. Restorative justice is about making things right and, as a peace officer, I found a relational avenue that permitted offenders and victims to come together for a peaceful dialogue to help resolve problems.

How has your personal journey influenced your work?

My love and passion for policing allowed me to build supportive relationships and appreciation for all people. Through my experiences in law enforcement, I developed my passion for teaching criminal justice theories and practices. It is my desire to reinforce the importance of high moral standards and doing the “right thing” in criminal justice professions.

Who are your heroes?

I thank and honor my mother for the wisdom and values I have gained. She would always tell me to be kind to others and respect living things. Even though our family didn't have much, she would always help people in need of food or clothes. Her parental warmth and discipline assisted me through difficult times in my life. She helped me to become the person I am today and gave me a sense of purpose in my life. I'm truly grateful for all she did to raise me.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Mostly, I like to spend time with my wife and three-year old daughter. Being a father brings me so much joy. When I'm free from my father duties, I like to read professional journals on criminal justice and restorative justice. I also volunteer my time to professional associations and train others in restorative justice practices. For fun I enjoy music, dancing, roller-skating and biking.

What is the one thing going on in your field that nobody's talking about?

I would like to see inclusive forums for discussing criminal justice policy. People from all backgrounds need to be part of the dialogue to help develop commonsense criminal justice policies. There needs to be more discussion on reducing the racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system. These disparities occur at different levels of the justice system and are at times based on discretionary decisions made by criminal justice practitioners. These actions foster public mistrust and none are more effected than police officers. It is difficult for law enforcement to build relationships and collaborate with the communities they serve if they are not trusted and misunderstood.

Ingrid Wright

— Jana Schwartz