Though it sounds new and radical, an ancient form of justice is finding a more prominent place in America’s disciplinary practice. Restorative Justice a practice that involves looking at all aspects of an event, grievance, or crime. The stories of the victim and the perpetrator are taken into account, as well as the effects and specific circumstances.
Per Huffington Post, Restorative Justice is “not about excusing crime or letting people off the hook,” and it’s “not about forcing forgiveness or even about forgiveness,” but seeks to examine needs of parties who are hurt and explore obligations to correct the situation. This model is not without controversy, but is finding more footing within American criminal justice and, recently, in American schools.
NO MORE DETENTION
California has been the first state to explore utilizing Restorative Justice in the school system. Oakland area schools have been using this ideology for over a decade and it has been quite successful, eliminating detentions and raising graduation rates and test scores. However, as the LA Times has outlined, Los Angeles schools are having less success. While intended to instill empathy, compassion, and respect, many view it as an obstacle for more conventional and tested methods of discipline.
NO CLEAR STRATEGY
The problems with Los Angeles School District may be more with implementation and budget than with he practice itself. Most teachers have not been trained to properly facilitate the methods, and with overcrowded and understaffed classes, it is difficult to properly roll out the initiative. The most vocal critics argue that it takes away power from the teachers and creates more unruly classrooms.
Some of the critics still concede that it is effective, just not a “be all, end all” practice. Ed Azzam, discipline dean of Westchester High School, in Los Angeles, said: “”It isn’t the complete answer or the only answer, but it’s a really good tool…(but) the key is developing a relationship with the kids, so I’m not the enemy,” and it’s best to avoid an “adversarial relationship” with the students. Another teacher at Westchester High, Johanna Bernstein, had immense success with Restorative Justice, where students were found to be more respectful of both teachers and each other.
While further assessment needs to be done, Restorative Justice has worked in many other places around the world and has proven effective in parts of America. If properly integrated, the hope would be to create more harmonious and respectful school environments, which are more conducive for learning. Furthermore, if successful, these practices could be applied to parts of the American criminal justice system to create more cost-effective and fair ways to handle certain offenses.
November 11, 2015 / Ryan Serey