Restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own, and it's growing in practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions and air their grievances. (This overview from Fix School Discipline is a wonderful primer.)
For the growing number of districts using restorative justice, the programs have helped strengthen campus communities, prevent bullying and reduce student conflicts. And the benefits are clear: Early adopting districts have seen drastic reductions in suspension and expulsion rates, and students say they are happier and feel safer.
In practice, these programs vary by district, but respect and responsibility seem to be common themes. Here's a look at restorative justice programs in a few schools:
Oakland Unified School District
Oakland Unified School District first implemented its restorative justice program at one school in 2007. Since then, it has expanded, and the district has seen promising reductions in suspensions, in addition to increased attendance.
The program is broken down into three tiers. In the first, entire classrooms come together in community-building circles to talk about problems and voice their concerns, which encourages peer-to-peer respect. For specific conflicts, though, smaller groups are used, which bring together the harmed student, the person causing the harm, and a group of their peers or adults. A third tier is reserved for student reintegration following suspension.
- "Opening Up, Students Transform a Vicious Circle," by Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times
- "Restorative Justice: One High School’s Path to Reducing Suspensions by Half," by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, Christian Science Monitor
Ypislanti High School
The restorative justice program at Ypislanti High School engages students in peer mediation in a "conflict resolution center." These interventions are designed to help resolve conflicts before they turn into bigger issues. For conflicts that have already happened, say a fight, all students involved as well as their peers participate in a "restorative circle," which allows the student who has caused the harm to hear the views of peers.
- "School Hopes Talking It Out Keeps Kids From Dropping Out," by Jennifer Guerra, National Public Radio
- "Dispute Resolution Center to mentor staff, students at Ypsilanti High," by Danielle Arndt, The Ann Arbor News
Guides for Successful Implementation
Of course, successful restorative justice programs require some planning. For those interested in taking those first steps, these guides provide plenty of insight.
- Implementing Restorative Justice: A Guide for Schools, from the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority
- Restorative Justice: A Working Guide for Our Schools, from the Alameda County Schools Health Coalition [PDF]
- Parent-to-Parent Guide on Restorative Justice, from Community Organizing and Family Issues
Other Resources and Articles
- Howard Zehr's Restorative Justice Blog
- Restorative Measures Resources, from Minnesota Department of Education
- Restorative Justice Resources from Restorative Justice Online
- Can Restorative Justice Keep Schools Safe?, Greater Good Science Center
- Bullying in Schools: Teaching Respect and Compassion Through Restorative Processes, Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog