Restorative Justice Programs: Heal Your Community and Support Your Students

March 04th, 2019

Restorative justice can significantly help the families in your community by shaping the way people think about crime and social reform. The current US justice system focuses on simply punishing the criminal, which also casts the victim into a passive role. Through restorative justice programs, the offender, as well as the victim, will have a part in the healing process. As the criminal is held accountable for the bad behavior, he or she will be able to take responsibility for the actions all while helping the victim to restore the sense of loss and vulnerability. This philosophy differs from the strict code of increasing discipline.

There are many restorative justice programs available that deal with the breakdown of human relationships throughout society to correct criminal behavior. Both the offender and the victim should feel empowered and supported in making a meaningful change based on their personal experiences. Some critical components of these restorative justice programs include open communication and dialogue as well as community support and inclusion. This process involves not only seeking accountability but healing the broken and reuniting the divided.

Some of the more common restorative justice programs include community service and restitution. However, conferencing and peacemaking are also important. In some instances, former prisoner assistance or involvement might be helpful. Victim and offender dialogue through mediation is another vital part of restorative justice programs.

Beyond the prison system, restorative justice can also have a significant impact on young people. Rather than enforcing a zero tolerance policy at school, some districts and their students have benefitted from restorative justice programs.

For example, let’s say Benny was late to school. The educational system will merely punish him for being tardy. Perhaps the teacher would even scold him in front of the other classmates. This action might cause Benny to feel embarrassed and talk back, which deserves detention. The reason he was late was that he was arguing with his drunk father. Now Benny is even angrier and gets into a fight at lunch. After being detained by the school officer, Benny is sent to the juvenile center and expelled from school.

Restorative justice would treat this scenario entirely different. If Benny were tardy, his teacher would wait until an appropriate, private time to discuss the matter. Depending on the reason, the teacher could set up a meeting with the counselor to resolve the issue.

The altercation would most likely not occur at lunch after the tardiness was handled with support rather than punishment. However, in the event of a fight, school mediators would intervene to de-escalate the situation and bring clarity to both parties. The students would resolve the conflict through dialogue and receive an appropriate punishment to help them learn why their actions were inappropriate.

In 2006, a failing middle school within the Oakland Unified School District adopted restorative justice programs that involved open communication and support as opposed to strict punishment. By 2009, the same school had an 87% decrease in suspensions as well as a reduction in violence. The entire district began the restorative justice programs in 2011 as a new model for disciplinary problems. To maintain and restore relationships between students and teachers, the education system uses a three-tier method.

The first tier is described as community building, which allows for classroom circles to prevent bad behavior by creating shared values and discussing relatable emotions. Tier two is known as the restorative process and aims to intervene and repair conflict by addressing the root cause of the conflict. Through family-group conferencing and mediation, the offender will learn accountability while the victim heals. Finally, the last tier, supported re-entry, deals with re-integrating individuals through one-on-one support after a suspension, expulsion, or incarceration.

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