We are in a time of immense change in our country and one thing that is being reconsidered is the role of police and punitive sanctions more broadly in schools. Research has shown that the presence of police and punitive sanctions in schools often drives students —particularly minority and poor students—out of school, resulting in a “school-to-prison” pipeline (Losen 2015).
Restorative justice is a non-punitive and relationship-based approach to responding to misbehavior and harm that encourages accountability and the reparation of relationships. It also works proactively to generate a positive school climate where students feel safe, respected, and heard. This translates into a myriad of positive outcomes for students and teachers alike.
A 2020 study summarizing the most recent two decades of quantitative studies regarding the effectiveness of restorative justice in schools found that restorative justice implementation has the following impacts (Darling-Hammond et al 2020).
- A decrease in harmful behaviors (i.e. violence).
- A decrease in exclusionary discipline (i.e. suspensions and expulsions). Exclusionary discipline is associated with a large range of negative outcomes for students including dropping out of school and being incarcerated, so a decrease in exclusionary discipline results in other improved outcomes for students.
- A decrease in suspensions of Black, Latinx, low-income, and special needs students.
- A lower rate of recidivism.
- A reduction in the racial discipline gap.
- Increased attendance.
- Increased graduation rates.
- Improved school climate.
- Increased social-emotional growth and position development of students.
- Higher levels of school connectedness and positive peer relations.
- Increase in students’ feelings of safety.
I strongly urge school districts around the country to consider implementing a comprehensive restorative justice program to ensure school safety and improve students’ experiences of school climate and feelings of belonging.
Darling-Hammond, S., Fronius, T. A., Sutherland, H., Guckenburg, S., Petrosino, A., & Hurley, N. (2020). “Effectiveness of Restorative Justice in US K-12 Schools: A Review of Quantitative Research.” Contemporary School Psychology.
Losen, D. (Ed.). (2015). Closing the school discipline gap: equitable remedies for excessive exclusion. Teachers College Press.
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