A lengthy, limited, and difficult-to-read literature review of restorative justice in schools
by Jill Macchiaverna, preservice teacher and graduate student
Restorative Justice (RJ) is new. Every article acknowledged that more quantitative research is needed to provide empirical evidence before it can inarguably be said that RJ works better than other forms of discipline. In spite of the lack of quantitative evidence, there was no shortage of qualitative evidence in the forms of interviews and in the interpretation of the limited qualitative data available: Restorative Justice is a good thing.
Benefits of Restorative Justice abound. Some of the universal benefits noted in the studies included how victims and offenders both have greater satisfaction from dialogue and accountability sharing than from traditional punitive consequences. All agreed that RJ helps offenders make amends to all affected parties. Those who practice RJ find it meaningful as a way of life, not just as a discipline measure. Education-specific benefits seen in various studies included: fewer suspensions/expulsions, reduction in discipline disparities, improved school culture, and improved attendance. This is not an exhaustive list.
Criticisms of Restorative Justice are contradictory and lack evidence. The expense, training, and time required to properly implement RJ is too much, especially without hard data to back it up. It’s too soft of an approach for violent offenders. It’s just another branch in the school-to-prison pipeline. These RJ ideas aren’t new, they’ve been a part of indigenous cultures forever. We can’t use RJ; it conflicts with our zero-tolerance policies.
Adam, J.M., Scotuzzi, C.A.S. (2013). Violence and conflict in schools: analysis of proposals based on restorative justice in Brazil. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 10 December 2013, Vol.106, pp.3312-3319
Brazil’s educational system faces many of the same problems as the US:
teachers frustrated with student behavior
a school-to-prison pipeline
a history of zero tolerance for bad behavior
a subtle turn to more democratic forms of conflict resolution
Main goal for using RJ: grow capacity to solve conflicts at school in a preventive manner so students don’t reach the judicial system
Support of RJ:
Integrates well with democratic management of education
Focuses on relationships
Increases collective work and dialogue
Doesn’t reduce participation in school
Turns guilt into responsibility
Criticisms of RJ:
80 hours of professional training from the justice department are required to lead restorative circles
participation is voluntary
the connection to the justice department and the use of language like ‘victim’ and ‘offender’ doesn’t build trust among students
Disregards how offenders became offenders
Ignores power, class, gender
Collective construction of rules and empowerment of groups aren’t as good as the continued presence of the judicial system is bad
Didn’t change school cultures
Ideas aren’t new, have always been a part of democratic administration of schools
Based on biased view of criminality and contravention
Authors suggest restorative justice should be more pedagogical and enacted by teachers, “...with a view to the restoration of relationships for the construction of an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence...” and not be reliant on external partners who are connected to the judicial system.
Austin, J. (2020). Restorative justice as a tool to address the role of policing and incarceration in the lives of youth in the United States. Journal of Librarianship and
Information Science 2020, Vol. 52(1). pp.106-120. DOI: 10.1177/0961000618787979
This article talked to urban librarians in California about how restorative justice was an approach to creating social change through:
increased access to library services and resources
shifting library culture to better serve youth made vulnerable to and by the state (p106)
Traditional library practices echo processes of surveillance and policing in at-risk youths’ lives. (p106)
Support for RJ:
Applicable for large or small harms
Victims and offenders work together
Values wellbeing of all involved
Recognizes humanity of all involved
People take responsibility for their choices
Creates an accountable community, shared ownership
Capable of shifting library culture (p107)
Balances power, consequences, and youth privacy (p112)
Lead to functional relationships between librarians and youth (p113)
Requires adults to model vulnerability for youth (p118)
Criticisms of RJ:
The process is insurgent (competes with the state)
The process is subversive (challenges social arrangements and practices)
Communicating internal RJ values with external private security has to be constant.
Can be difficult to implement if all staff is not supportive.
It’s a buzzword that doesn’t acknowledge the contexts of youths’ worlds or the political and social forces that shape the lives of youth of color. (p117)
Requires trained facilitators
“The adaptation of restorative justice in library practice sits alongside a critical approach to representative materials as a means to address historically oppressive systems that continue in library practice.” (p108)
Rules over noise levels, comportment, speed of pace, and gestures are used as gatekeepers that have kicked out Black and LGBTQ youth. (p108)
Principles of restorative justice can be found in First Nations and Maori peoples. (p109)
In direct conflict, (e.g. - a patron gets hit by an item a youth was throwing at another youth) it was easier to use RJ circles to address behavior. When there is not a direct victim, it’s more difficult to address (e.g. - a group of teens being too noisy).
Librarians don’t always have the structure or dedicated space needed for group circles. (p117)
One library made RJ part of its operating philosophy. A staff member noted it’s “not a model to deal with problems but a model to deal with relationships.” (p112)
Questions for RJ interactions:
“What were you thinking at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what happened?
What can you do to make things right?
What can you do to make sure this does not happen again?
(Utheim, 2014: 357).” (p118)
“Librarians who wish to incorporate restorative practice in their library practice may be disheartened by the fact that much of the actual restorative justice processes at the library system in this research involved restorative justice professionals.” (p118)
“The findings in this research illustrate the necessity of contextualized understandings of the forces through which youth are made vulnerable to the state within the cultural contexts of libraries as institutions. They reveal that access to library resources must be understood within the ways that library services have continued to operate through cultural and behavioral norms that value white, middle-class, and hetero-normative belonging.” (p119)
Evans, K.R., Lester, J.N., Anfara, V.A. (2013). Restorative justice in education: What we know so far. Middle School Journal, May 2013, Vol. 44, No. 5 (May 2013), pp. 57-63. http://www.jstor.com/stable/41982325
Democratic approaches are antithetical to zero tolerance policies
Support for RJ:
Holds offenders accountable
Repairs harm to victims
Supports offenders’ reintegration into community
Emphasizes mutual respect
Doesn’t focus on misbehavior
Participatory, deliberative democracy
Reduces school violence
Changes school conditions that lead to violence
Reinforced school values
Criticisms of RJ:
If restitution is not explained as an act that seeks to make amends, offenders perceive it as just one more form of punishment. (p59)
More research is needed on efficacy in schools; current research mostly exists as evaluation reports or institutional reports (p61)
Hard to navigate tensions with broader, contradictory discipline policies
Can take 3-5 years before significant structural changes are seen (p61)
Requires funding for training and bringing in personnel to facilitate
Ill-defined practice; hard to know what it’s supposed to look like or how to implement it in schools
Zero tolerance policies have failed to create safer schools and even made disciplinary problems worse
“Applications of RJ range from victim-offender mediation or reconciliation, restorative conferencing for resolving conflict, and peacemaking circles, and each of these can be applied as a whole-school model or used within individual classrooms.” (p59)
Seven Principles guide RJ practices in education:
1) Meeting needs (assumes bad behaviors are in response to unmet needs)
2) Providing accountability and support (compassionate accountability)
3) Making things right (repair the harm to the victim(s))
4) Viewing conflict as a learning opportunity (teaching students empathy and problem solving)
5) Building healthy learning communities (builds respectful communities)
6) Restoring relationships (any stakeholder in the situation get a chance to have their voices heard)
7) Addressing power imbalances (suspension/expulsion deprives students of learning/power)
After RJ, “teachers were more willing to reflect on their daily interactions with students and colleagues.” (p60-61)
Most effective when staff displayed commitment to underlying principles (p61)
Suggestions for implementation:
Combine strong leadership and grassroots change (helps develop critical mass)
Start where you are (build on teachers who already have a restorative philosophy in their class)
Invite voluntary participation (have discussions as opposed to mandating it for the whole school)
Shift the paradigm about punishment and control (social control has to be replaced with social engagement)
Implement a hierarchy of responses
1st tier - whole-school social and emotional skills training
2nd tier - small group conferences or peer mediation
3rd tier - victim-offender conferencing and mediation
“Literature about effective middle grades disciplinary and classroom management practices highlights four essential factors (Curtin, 2006; Evans 8c Lester, 2010).
1. Students should feel respected within and connected to their school environments.
2. Students should be active participants in the learning environment, helping to shape and determine behavioral norms within the school.
3. The classroom management approach used must take into account the cultural, social, and behavioral qualities each student brings.
4. When possible, the approach used should be implemented school-wide.” (p62)
“We suggest that RJ offers a democratic approach to classroom climate and discipline. While challenges to implementation do exist, the growing research base supports the use of RJ in decreasing expulsions and suspensions while fostering a positive school climate. Beyond such outcomes, as noted within the theoretical and empirical research related to RJ, restorative approaches likely will result in improved relationships between and among students, teachers, schools, and communities. As noted in the call for more democratic and relational approaches to classroom management (NMSA, 2010), approaches that seek to foster problem- solving abilities and pursue a sense of belonging and community are necessary for effective middle level education.” (p63)
Fonseca Rosenblatt, F., Bolívar Fernández, D. (2015). Paving the way toward a ‘Latin’ restorative justice. Restorative Justice, 3:2, 149-158, DOI: 10.1080/20504721.2015.1069084
Though ad hoc, restorative justice is becoming more popular as a humanistic public policy that can repair communities marked by conflict and violence.
More Latin American agencies are experimenting with restorative justice.
More Latin American academics are studying restorative justice.
Criticisms of RJ:
RJ is a discipline developed mostly by white people in North America, UK, Australasia, and western Europe, and is “ill-equipped to provide meaningful perspectives on certain southern realities.” (p150)
Unable to challenge longstanding criminal justice structures, definitions and language (p152)
As just an add-on to the current system, risk ‘net-widening’ by bringing offenders with non-serious offenses into contact with the criminal justice system. (p152)
Public sees it as too ‘soft’
Too ambiguous to implement
Aspects of Latin American crime/crime-control that affect abilities to understand and use restorative justice (p150-151):
Levels and shapes of violence (and crime-control violence)
Statistically, Latin America is the most violent region in the world.
Latin American countries that have adopted zero tolerance policies have had a genocidal impact in second-world countries and a dictatorship over the poor and marginalized. (p151)
Growing punitive expectations of general public
The region abolished the death penalty 100 years ago, but the justice system still tortures and kills. (p152)
The authoritarian style is well-installed in judicial systems. (p156)
Public’s lack of confidence in criminal justice institutions
People own guns, hire guards because they know police won’t come when they need them. (p154)
Social stigmatisation of offenders (and victims) that is promoted daily by the media. (p156)
“... lack of empirical findings … truth is we know very little about the needs of ‘our’ victims and offenders.” (p155)
“...restorative justice, surely in Latin America, needs to move away from the ‘zero-sum game assumption’ whereby any enhancement of the rights or interests of the offender are assumed detrimental to the victim.” (p155)
Fronius, T., et al. (2019). Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: An Updated Research Review. WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center. Retrieved online on July 16, 2020, from WestEd: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiVid2ylNTqAhUDC6wKHXZHBI0QFjAJegQIBRAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wested.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2019%2F04%2Fresource-restorative-justice-in-u-s-schools-an-updated-research-review.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0yjqbsFEJ8apEFM3vJsoMF
For their lit review, authors looked for studies as far back as 1999 and focused on primary and secondary schools. The authors filtered by studies that used quantitative methods and wound up with 31 from 2014-2019.
A Queensland, Australia, high school was the pioneer in RJ in 1994.
Research in Kentucky showed suspensions explained 20% of the black-white achievement gap. (p9)
Research in Florida found one suspension makes a student twice as likely to drop out and twice as likely to be arrested. (p9)
“...Black students were 26.2% more likely to receive out-of-school suspension for their first offense than White students.” (p9)
“The literature underscores the many challenges confronted when implementing RJ in schools. For example, there is confusion about what RJ is and no consensus about the best way to implement it. RJ also requires staff time and buy-in, training, and resources that traditional sanctions such as suspension do not impose on the school. With RJ, teachers are often required to perform duties that would traditionally be outside of their job description, such as attending RJ trainings, conducting circles during instruction time, and spending more time talking one-on-one with students. Also, some educators and other stakeholders are resistant to RJ because it is sometimes perceived as being “too soft” on student offenses (Evans & Lester, 2013). Finally, while RJ programs will certainly vary by the size of the school and scope of the program (Sumner, Silverman, & Frampton, 2010), some researchers suggest that a shift in attitudes toward punishment may take one to three years (Karp & Breslin, 2001), and the deep shift to a restorative-oriented school climate might take up to three to five years (Evans & Lester, 2013). This timing assumes that the program will also be sustained financially, which underscores the importance of considering what resources will be needed and for how long to introduce and sustain RJ in a school or district.” (p11)
Authors say there is not enough evidence to say which steps are helpful and which are essential, but the steps for putting RJ in schools are:
Funding an RJ program
Reallocation of existing funds
Pooling resources between communities to fund training for staff
Preparing: Culture, community-building, and staff training
Schools that use regression analysis on staff surveys are ready for RJ if their employees have perceptions that schools consistently and fairly enforce school rules. (p12)
Important to shift philosophy around accountability before shifting practices.
Teachers feel district-provided PD and support is necessary. (p13)
Effective facilitators build trust by coming to the school 4-5 days/week. (p13)
Sustaining: Integration, buy-in, and patience
Use RJ across the school and district
Utilize starter kits from other school districts (p15)
Before RJ, black and LGBTQ students were more likely to perceive bullying at school than white/straight students. After RJ, perceived levels of bullying were aligned. (p18)
“Most reports in the professional or trade journals describe the RJ program or model as being successful whether implemented in public, private, or alternative schools, in urban or suburban environments, and whether the program is in one school or every school in the district.” (p22)
High-absentee/truant students who participate in RJ start showing up for school more. (p30)
“...student groups that were overrepresented in school discipline (with the exception of English learner students) generally had comparable or higher-than-average access to restorative interventions compared to student groups that were not overrepresented in discipline. In particular, Latino and Black students had higher likelihoods than White students of being exposed to restorative interventions.” (p32)
Gavrielides, T. (2018). Victims and the restorative justice ambition: a London
case study of potentials, assumptions and realities. Contemporary Justice Review, 21:3, pp.254-275, DOI: 10.1080/10282580.2018.1488129
“In the UK, legislation now allows restorative justice at all stages of the criminal system…”
Support for RJ:
Victims and offenders both benefit from dialogue and accountability
Restores harm to all affected parties
Is a way of life
People who have heard of RJ give pretty good definitions of it (p262)
Criticisms of RJ:
Threat to victims’ rights, risk of victimization (p254)
Reverses gains made in having police/courts treating gender based violence as actual crimes (p254)
Has no true definition
Not aligned with victims and offenders realities (p255)
Too challenging to implement (p256)
Too expensive for the number of cases handled in the three years of pilot programs 2014-2017 (p256)
Most people don’t know it exists or how to find out their options for RJ (p261)
Most people weren’t offered RJ, and most of those who were only received the offer after the punitive court process was over.
It’s not new, just has been kept under the governmental radar. (p255)
Goal: to cut reoffending rates
There are two lines for the same demographic with different percentages when the author is breaking down the offenders by ethnicity. There’s a “19% identified as Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups” and a “5% identified as Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups.” This error makes me question the validity of the article. (p260)
Reasons victims chose RJ (p263):
To bring closure
To have their say and explain the impact of the offender’s actions
To ask the offender questions
Reasons offenders chose RJ (p263):
Give victim opportunity to ask questions
Have their say and explain their actions
Demonstrate they are working to stop offending
Offer an apology or compensation
Author acknowledges research did not interview a meaningful number of people over a meaningful amount of time.
Hashim, A.K., Strunk, K.O., Dhaliwal, T.K. (2018). Justice for All? Suspension Bans and Restorative Justice Programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Peabody Journal of Education, 93:2. pp174-189, DOI: 10.1080/0161956X.2018.1435040
Compares suspension data from LAUSD before and after bans and restorative justice were in place. Data comes from school administrative data years 2003-2004 through 2014-2015.
Includes 1.44 million observations of individual students enrolled in 785 schools.
LAUSD discipline reform in 3 phases:
Phase 1 - schoolwide positive behavior intervention support (SWPBIS) program starting in the 2006–2007 school year
Phase 2 - ban prohibiting schools from suspending students for willful defiance starting in the 2011–2012 school year
Phase 3 - adoption of a restorative justice program (RJP) to be implemented alongside its SWPBIS program and suspension ban starting in the 2014–2015 school year
US Dept of Edu tracked suspension activity in 2009-2010, but the added attention didn’t appear to affect the suspension trends
Large rates in declines of suspensions after the ban; addition of restorative justice further reduced suspensions.
Ban and RJ reduced suspension gaps between frequently disciplined children and their peers.
Suspension gaps still persist between black and non-black students and SPED and non-SPED students (p174)
Support of RJ:
Lower instances of willful defiance
Builds positive and inclusive school climates
Sets communal processes and norms for behavior
Repairs harm from misconduct
Reintegrates students who have been suspended/expelled
Criticisms of RJ:
Little evidence on efficacy
No longitudinal studies
May only be applicable to high-infraction schools (p176)
Can’t measure change in school climate in a way that links it to RJ (p187)
“...results show that educators in LAUSD were suspending traditionally marginalized students for willful defiance at greater rates than other students.” (p186)
Schools that received RJ training “...experienced relatively larger drops in suspension rates than other school cohorts that did not receive this signaling and/or training. This suggests that restorative justice training may reinforce the goals of suspension bans to lower suspensions.” (p187)
The programs are still kind of new (4 years since the suspension ban, 1 year of restorative justice training for teachers) so more long term studies are needed.
Mayworm, A.M., Sharkey, J.D., Hunnicutt, K.L., Schiedel, K.C. (2016). Teacher Consultation to Enhance Implementation of School-Based Restorative Justice. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation 2016, VOL. 26, NO. 4, pp.385–412
Proposes a professional development (PD) model for teachers to build competency in restorative justice.
Acknowledges more research is needed, as current evidence is mostly anecdotal and didn’t have control groups.
Preservice training isn’t adequate for classroom management in general and RJ in particular. (p395)
“Desimone (2009) describes the characteristics of teacher PD that research has found to be fundamental to improving their teaching as (a) a content focus that trains teachers how students learn specific content; (b) active learning that allows teachers to discuss or practice skills; (c) coherence that links training to teacher knowledge and beliefs; (d) duration of training of at least 20 hours spread over a semester, which promotes change in practice; and (e) collective participation that encourages teachers who work closely together to interact throughout training and implementation.” (p396)
Consultee-centered consultation (CCC): “(a) It places emphasis on a nonhierarchical relationship between the consultant and consultee; (b) the problem being addressed is a concern for the consultee who has a responsibility for the outcome of the client; (c) the consultant is primarily focused on helping the consultee consider multiple perspectives on the concerns, with the goal of the consultee reframing the problem; and (d) the goal is jointly developing a new way of understanding the problem and the consultee acquiring new skills so that the relationship between the consultee and client can be restored (Knotek & Sandoval, 2003).” (p398)
Can be 1:1 or in a group
A tiered approach to teacher PD in RJ:
Step 1: Determine and justify the need for RJ
“This justification will hold the most weight when data are used to support the need for a new approach and the school community has the opportunity to learn about and become invested in the tenets of RJ.” (p400)
“It may be necessary to educate the community about what RJ is and is not, present findings from other schools that have used an RJ approach, and work in collaboration to identify a method of implementing RJ that is accepted by the broader community. Data that may inform the initial needs assessment phase include the number of office disciplinary referrals (ODRs); rates of suspension, expulsion, truancy, school completion, and absenteeism (teacher and student); achievement scores; referrals to prereferral student success teams (SSTs) and special education; number of students receiving mental health services; and school climate (Bear, 2010).” (p400)
Step 2: Tier 1 school-wide professional development
Step 3: Initial implementation phase
restorative pre-conferencing and conferencing
Step 4: Needs assessment
Identify the full range of teachers who may benefit from additional training
Step 5: Tier 2 and Tier 3 support through consultation
Tier 2: Group teacher consultation
“...group CCC might be offered during mandatory staff meetings to allow teachers to debrief their experiences, share challenges and successes, and brainstorm strategies for addressing problems as they arise. Such an approach can help to build community among teachers and promote the RJ philosophy throughout the school.” (p402)
Tier 3: One-on-one teacher consultation
For teachers with more intensive needs, 8 CCC steps (p403-406):
Orientation, relationship building, and maintaining rapport.
Problem exploration, definition, reframing.
Gather data as needed.
Sharing information, hypothesis generation, and reframing.
Analyze systemic forces.
Supporting experiments and interventions.
Make sure data collection has continued.
Follow-up and disengagement.
Step 6: Monitor and evaluate impact school wide
Step 7: Determine next steps
Collaborate on lingering obstacles and needs and form new plans
Obstacles include “...the large time commitment, limited access to resources, and substantial staff effort (Kaveney & Drewery, 2011). Therefore, a tiered approach to PD may be a viable solution so that less intensive but equally successful strategies can be implemented for all teachers, leaving those who are successful at integrating the concepts in their teaching free to focus on other aspects of their job.” (p408)