What is it?
Restorative Justice, originally used in the justice context and adapted for use in the school context,is a set of principles and practices centered on promoting respect, taking responsibility, and strengthening relationships. Restorative Justice invites a fundamental shift in the way we think about and do justice, from punishing individuals after wrongdoing to repairing harm and preventing its reoccurrence. It is an “alternative to retributive zero-tolerance policies that mandate suspension or expulsion of students from school for a wide variety of misbehaviors” that are not necessarily violent or dangerous. The term “Restorative Practices” is used by a number of practitioners to describe how the concepts of restorative justice are then utilized to create systems change in the school system. Hereinafter, Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices are used interchangeably.
What are the features of successful restorative practices?
The core belief of Restorative Practices is that people will make positive changes when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them. Therefore, a successful restorative system:
- Acknowledges that relationships are central to building community
- Builds systems that address misbehavior and harm in a way that strengthens relationships
- Focuses on the harm done rather than only on rule breaking
- Gives voice to the person harmed
- Engages in collaborative problem solving
- Empowers change and growth
- Enhances responsibility
How is it different?
Restorative Justice changes the way that schools think about student discipline and school climate. Instead of the traditional student-teacher-administration hierarchy, Restorative Justice emphasizes every school members’ responsibility to the school community.
What does Restorative Justice look like in a school?
First, the restorative justice “circle” is used as a critical way to emphasize community, relationship building, and build trust.
- In classrooms, chairs are placed in a physical circle with no additional furniture blocking any participants.
- A facilitator, the “circle keeper,” can be a student or a teacher who makes introductory comments, including a discussion about the values and positive agreements that will govern that circle.
- A talking piece, that has some significance to members of the circle, allows only the person holding it the right to speak.
- Participants “check-in” to talk about how they are feeling physically, mentally or emotionally and “check-out” to discuss how they are feeling as the circle ends.
Teachers regularly use circles to work together with students to set academic goals, explore the curriculum, and develop core values for the classroom community.
Circles are used to help prevent harm and conflict by helping to build a sense of belonging, safety, and social responsibility in the school community. Additionally, circles are used when harm happens. Depending on the gravity of the harm, these conflict circles may include the person who did the harm, the person who was harmed, parents of both parties and a facilitator.
Why is Restorative Justice a better approach than quick removals?
Restorative justice not only reduces out of school suspensions and expulsions, but the actual incidents of harm to the school community, making it a safer place for all students. Here are a few examples of restorative justice in action:
- Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) instituted a Restorative Justice program at Cole Middle School in Oakland that reduced suspension rates in its first year by more than 75%, and reduced violent fights and expulsions to zero.
- At Richmond High School, a recently-implemented Restorative School Discipline program cut the school’s nearly 500 suspensions in half from January 2011 to January 2012.
- Denver Public Schools adopted new discipline policies in 2008-2009 that use Restorative Justice, resulting in a 68% reduction in police tickets in schools and a 40% reduction in out-of-school suspensions.
- Several schools in Marin County implementing restorative practices and using a peer resolution approach have seen reductions in suspensions and bullying. Read about their efforts.
Where can I go for additional information, resources and research?
Dignity in Schools, an organization committed to advocating for school discipline policy and adoption of alternatives to zero-tolerance discipline – http://www.dignityinschools.org/
Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing restorative practices into Oakland schools – http://www.rjoyoakland.org/
International Institute for Restorative Practices, a graduate school devoted entirely to the teaching, research and dissemination of restorative practices -http://www.iirp.edu
Safer Saner Schools, a project of IIRP, focused on achieving whole-school change though restorative practices -http://www.safersanerschools.org.
Restorative Visions School Project, a Human Rights organization dedicated to fulfillment of the Constitutional promise of Education Equality – http://www.restorativeschoolsproject.org/
Restorative Justice Online, a service of the Prison Fellowship International Centre for Justice and Reconciliation which provides intensive information about Restorative Justice http://www.restorativejustice.org/
Information in this fact sheet was largely adapted from San Francisco Unified School District’s Restorative Practices training and “School-based Restorative Justice as an Alternative to Zero-Tolerance Policies: Lessons from West Oakland,” Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, University of California Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall) 2008
Lumpkins, D. & Marshall, M. (02/28/2012), Suspensions at Richmond High Plummet, New America Media, available at http://newamericamedia.org/2012/02/suspensions-at-richmond-high-plummet.php
 Dignity in Schools, Creating Positive School Discipline, citing Advancement Project, Stop the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track. http://www.stopschoolstojails.org/padres-jovenes-unidos-denver.html