Joseph Roy, former principal of Springfield Township High School, now Springfield Township superindendent, in PA, USA, utilizies restorative practices to build a positive school community. 

A report issued by the American Psychological Association (APA) at their summer 2006 annual meeting found that zero tolerance policies in use throughout U.S. school districts have not been effective in reducing violence
or promoting learning in school. The report called for a change in these policies and indicated a need for alternatives, including restorative practices such as restorative justice conferences.

The report was written by an APA task force, led by Cecil R. Reynolds, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, which was charged with reviewing the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies in American schools. In essence, the report found that “zero tolerance has not been shown to improve school climate or school safety.”

Although it seems intuitive that removing disruptive students from schools will improve the school experience for others and that severe punishment will improve the behavior of both the punished and those who witness the punishment, the task force report asserts that the available evidence “consistently flies in the face of these beliefs.”

The Scottish Executive (government) released this report, an evaluation of two years of implementation of restorative practices in 18 schools in three local authorities. The report states that restorative practices "can offer a powerful and effective approach to promoting harmonious relationships in school and to the successful resolution of conflict and harm."

 
 

Judi and Sean Mariner, a mother and son who have benefited from CSF Buxmont’s ISP processIn 2002, Community Service Foundation and Buxmont Academy (CSF Buxmont) began redefining the way its Individual Service Plans (ISPs) were handled at their eight alternative schools, 16 foster group homes and supervision and counseling programs for struggling youth, located throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) mandates that an ISP be developed for every youth referred to CSF or any similar program, upon entry. DPW regulations require that the most pressing issues for each youth be identified. These issues serve as the focus of a youth’s Individual Service Plan for the first six months of his or her time in the program.

Until this point, ISPs were developed with the best of intentions by CSF staff for young people entering their program, but the young people and their family members were not involved in defining the concerns that would determine the direction of the youths’ initial service plans.

 
 

Participants at the Restorative Justice Training, at Northern Caribbean University, in Mandeville, JamaicaJamaica is a beautiful country, but it is deeply troubled by poverty and violence. “Anyone who has followed Jamaica over the past 10 to 20 years can see our country has suffered from the loss of communal relationships that once existed. The issue of crime and violence is dominant at present,” noted Dr. Teran Milford, dean of the College of Teacher Education and Behavioural Sciences at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), in Mandeville. “One way to rebuild structures and rebuild relationships is through restorative justice,” he added. “Rather than just punishing a perpetrator of crime, we want to find ways to reinstate the perpetrator back in the community.”

This core principle of restorative justice (RJ), along with its focus on repairing the harm done to people and empowering those affected by crime, has found a ready recipient in Jamaica, where the government is now engaged in a program to promote the use of RJ throughout many areas of society to redress past harms and begin making enduring changes in the culture.

RJ was mandated by the Jamaican government in response to violent conflicts in 2001 between police and citizens in inner-city areas, on the recommendation of Jennifer Llewelyn, of Dalhousie Law School, Nova Scotia, an expert witness on restorative justice for the 2002 Jamaican Commission of Enquiry.

As an increasing number of schools worldwide adopt restorative practices as a means of dealing with discipline and improving school culture, school leaders are beginning to analyze the impact of restorative methods. The numbers tell a powerful story: Schools implementing restorative methods have seen a drop in disciplinary problems, decreased reliance on detention and suspension, and an improvement in student attitudes. Gathering such data is important, both for evaluating the effectiveness of restorative methods and garnering funding support for restorative programs.

(Instead of zero tolerance and authoritarian punishment, restorative practices provides high levels of both control and support to encourage appropriate behavior, and places responsibility on students themselves, using a collaborative response to wrongdoing. The philosophy underlying these practices holds that human beings are happier, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things WITH them, rather than TO them or FOR them.)

So far, much significant research on restorative practices in schools has consisted of qualitative studies. (See Part 1 of this article.) “We’ve shown in case study after case study that schools that adopt this approach report significant changes in their cultures,” said Dr. Paul McCold, researcher and founding faculty member of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) graduate school. “What’s needed now is solid quantitative research.” Both quantitative and qualitative analyses are valuable, he noted, as qualitative studies can help to explain quantitative findings.

 
 

Dr. Lawrence W. Sherman and Dr. Heather Strang, both longtime researchers on the effectiveness of restorative justice (RJ), have recently published a major new study titled “Restorative Justice: The Evidence.” Published in the UK, carried out by the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and sponsored by the Smith Institute, an independent think tank based in London, the study concludes that RJ—no matter how it is measured—is as or more effective than traditional methods of criminal justice (CJ) for reducing crime with respect to nearly every group of offender studied.

“There is far more evidence on RJ, with more positive results, than there has been for most innovations in criminal justice.”

—From “Restorative Justice: The Evidence”

BBC Radio has posted a "Lent Talk" by prominent UK barrister Cherie Booth,QC (Queen''s Counsel), about the themes of restorative justice in thestory of Zacchaeus. (Booth is married to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.)She also tells several contemporary restorative justice stories. Hertalk is an eloquent expression of the essence of restorative justice.Available on the web as text or audio.

 

Learn about the IIRP SaferSanerSchools™ program.

School CircleDebbie Little, restorative practices coordinator, South Lyon, Michigan, Community Schools, conducts a circle at Centennial Middle School. Hal Gould, South Lyon HeraldEducators around the globe are using restorative practices to proactively prevent problems like bullying and violence. Research shows that restorative approaches can transform student behavior and build healthy school communities. Part I of this two-part article looks at what educators and trainers say about the benefits and strategies of implementing restorative methods. Part II will provide quantitative analyses illustrating the impact of restorative practices in schools.

Growing awareness that punishments such as detention and suspension only aggravate issues such as bullying, violence, poor academic performance and parental apathy has prompted educators to explore restorative practices to create safe, supportive learning environments.

Restorative practices promotes inclusiveness, relationship-building and problem-solving, through such restorative methods as circles for teaching and conflict resolution to conferences that bring victims, offenders and their supporters together to address wrongdoing. Instead of punishment, students are encouraged to reflect on and take responsibility for their actions and come up with plans to repair harm.

Experts GroupDramatizations of conferences from a film made by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice in 2001 to train facilitators for the Courts PilotWhile it would be an exaggeration to say that restorative justice (RJ) has completely overtaken conventional forms of justice in New Zealand, RJ has made as much headway on the island nation as it has anywhere in the world. RJ processes—mainly conferencing, based on practices adopted from the Maori people of New Zealand, in which offenders, victims and their supporters meet face to face to repair the harm caused by crimes—are being implemented in the country of 4.1 million throughout the criminal justice system.

Unlike a court trial, where lawyers argue the law and impartial justice is meted out by juries and judges, conferencing puts those most affected by crime at the heart of the process. Victims, who are often unable to face or speak to offenders in court, are given a chance to express how they feel and have a say in the outcome.

This article by Zvi D. Gabbay, analyzes the premises of the main theories of punishment that influence sentencing policies in Western countries and compares them to the basic values of restorative justice. Originally published by the Journal of Dispute Resolution, a publication of the Center for Dispute Resolution of the University of Missouri School of Law.

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