Restorative justice refocuses the conversation surrounding crime and punishment by involving both the victim and perpetrator to reach a solution.
Introducing this method of justice to your school can be daunting, but might help your students effectively handle conflict well in the long-run. Restorative justice changes the conversation and reaction to crime – or in the case of schools, bullying, fights, mean girls, etc.
How Restorative Justice Works
This method of justice sees crime as an affront to a community, not the law, thus the retribution must be paid to the community instead of the government. A mediator will bring the victim and perpetrator together to hear both sides and help them reach a solution.
In a video called “Beyond Zero Tolerance,” a group of students resolve conflict using restorative justice methods. A teacher asks the victim to explain how she felt when she saw her picture had been defaced. The three girls who bullied here are then asked questions about why they acted that way and how they would act in the future. Though the clip is a bit dated, the method remains the same.
An article from The Atlantic highlights a similar situation and looks into when restorative justice is effective in the modern school system. At Pittsfield Middle High School, students can choose to have their conflict reviewed by a committee or go through the school’s traditional discipline process.
“Students who serve on the committee say participating in the discussion circles has made them better listeners and more thoughtful about their own behavior both in and out of school,” said the article.
Successes and Struggles
Schools have implemented this system to varying degrees of success, though. One reason it has worked so well at Pittsfield is due to the school’s existing emphasis on student-based learning. Without the proper training for teachers, it can have negative effects. The Los Angeles Times reported on one school who implemented restorative justice only for teachers to feel like they had lost control of their students who no longer were afraid of potential consequences like suspension.
Under the Obama administration, zero tolerance policies were discouraged as being unfair to minorities. Restorative justice has been heralded as alternative method to effectively help students thoughtfully deal with conflict and give power to the victims in harmful situations.
Making the Change to Restorative Justice
Implementing restorative justice in your school is not a task to be taken lightly. It is possible, though, to turn punishment from a one-sided endeavor to a community-driven discussion. To introduce this method of justice, keep these thoughts in mind:
Commit to training the community.
One of the biggest reasons restorative justice fails is a lack of effective training. Make it clear that this is not meant to completely remove punishments for misbehavior, but to create conversation around why misbehavior occurred and help students make amends in a meaningful way. Edutopia co-founder and executive director Fania E. Davis recommends hiring a restorative justice coordinator to ensure proper training and facilitation. Fully understanding the purpose and potential of restorative justice is crucial to seeing results.
Discuss and focus on shared values.
Education Week’s blog post focuses on the importance of having the same core values when resolving conflict. The acronym RICH – respect, integrity, courage, and humility – offers members of the community a “common language for students, parents, and teachers to understand what is expected of all members of the school community.” Agreeing and focusing on those shared values will help the program be successful and effective.
Involve the entire community.
For restorative justice to be effective, everyone needs to be on board and committed. Since you’re “changing a culture that has been in place for a long time,” said a law professor in an article for The New York Times, it’s necessary to involve all members from teachers to parents to students to ensure a smoother transition.