As I train restorative practices to educators in a local school district, many of you may wonder, what is she talking about?
Definition & Goals
Howard Zehr describes the concept as, “Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.” 1,p. 37 The three main goals of Restorative Justice include holding the offender accountable for his/her actions, increasing community safety for everyone, and building competency skills for those involved. 2, p. 6
How did I get interested in restorative justice? My dissertation topic was how district attorneys decide to try a juvenile offender as an adult or as a juvenile. Throughout my research, I consistently read about how restorative justice holds offenders accountable for their actions and make things as right as possible.
When restorative justice is used with first time offenders, they often don’t become repeat offenders. They realize that what they did caused harm to others and/or harm to property. Say for example, a young person is found doing graffiti. This adolescent would be responsible for paying for the paint and spending many hours painting over graffiti in the community where he or she lives. Painting graffiti often loses its appeal when there are natural consequences. That’s what I love about restorative justice. It teaches consequences and how others have been hurt by the offender’s actions. The goal is to “make things right.”
As a college professor, I used restorative justice with my students who chose cheating. Because my students were future teachers, and California has a Code of Ethics for Educators, students write a Code of Ethics for themselves. When I discover they have cheated, we examine their code of ethics. Does cheating fit the Code of Ethics? The students receive a zero on the assignment or exam, but it goes beyond that. I want them to quit cheating.
Holding Students Accountable
So I ask students if they’d be willing to notify all their teachers the following semester that they were involved in a cheating incident. They want to change their behavior and become ethical educators. Guess what happens when a student confesses to cheating? The professor watches them like a hawk. By the end of the semester, “cheating students” usually change their ways. This is way better than just getting a zero. Natural consequences and restoring correct behavior. A win-win for all involved. What do you think about restorative practices?
1. The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr, Good Books, 2002.
2. Implementing Restorative Justice, Jessica Ashley, & Kimberly Burke, State of Illinois [no date].