Introduction to Restorative Justice

Introduction to Restorative Justice

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3838-8.ch001
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Chapter 1 provides an overview of a restorative justice framework based on harms, needs, obligations, and engagement. Restorative practices within schools are described and include an examination of how schools can shift their disciplinary policies from punitive measures to restorative practices. The chapter concludes with a discussion on how restorative practices can do more than reduce suspensions and expulsions and examines how schools can change their climate, improve relationships at school, and assist in changing perceptions of school for students who have experienced marginalization while at school.
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Understanding A Restorative Justice Framework

As a framework with three central pillars, restorative justice provides an empowering process for victims through a focus on harms and needs of the victim; addressing obligations for the offender and affected stakeholders; and by emphasizing a collaborative and caring approach centered on engagement (Zehr, 2002a). Through a process of vindication and recognition of needs, harms, and obligations, a victim can become empowered, viewing themselves as a survivor (Zehr, 2002b). Offenders can be transformed through emotional and psychological ways by learning compassion and consideration of others through a restorative process, and through physical ways if they are dealing with an addiction (Zehr, 2002b). Repairing relationships, providing opportunities for respectful dialogue, forging connections, community building through a process of involving all stakeholders within a respective community (such as a school community), and taking responsibility for not only individual actions but the actions of others form the cornerstone of restorative justice.

Restorative justice focuses on the transformation of society from a punitive society, valuing control, conformity, and reliance on punishment; to a restorative society, valuing accountability for wrongdoing, taking ownership over actions, respectful and inclusive dialogue and practices, reparation for harm, mediation for conflict and violence, and opportunities for teaching and learning when harm or conflict arises. During the 1970s, restorative justice as a movement attempted to shift the values of the criminal justice system to focus on the restoration, reparation, and the rebuilding of relationships in society and in our justice system (Johnstone & Van Ness, 2007). The shift towards restoration of our justice system contrasted the model of the time that centered on punitive and retributive forms of justice including a “just desserts” approach to crime and punishment (Umbreit, Vos, Coates, & Lightfoot, 2005). The restorative justice movement in the mid-1970s witnessed several key developments as the first victim offender reconciliation programs took shape in 1974; however, during the 1980s, there was minimal growth and development for restorative justice programs (Umbreit et al., 2005).

The 1990s brought further development for restorative justice within schools, as the first restorative conference was conducted in a school setting by Margaret Thorsborne in Australia (González, 2012; Morrison, 2007). Additionally, in 1994 the American Bar Association endorsed victim offender mediation and in 1995, Restorative Community Justice: A Call to Action was published by the National Organization for Victim Assistance (‘NOVA’) (Umbreit et al., 2005). At the turn of the 21st century, restorative programs witnessed greater acceptance and credibility, along with additional developments being made in the United States and internationally (Umbreit et al., 2005). As a framework, restorative justice programs and developments began to take shape in multiple settings including schools, workplaces, and correctional facilities. The ideas and principles of restorative justice continued to emerge across diverse contexts within the criminal justice system and juvenile justice system through diversion programs, community service programs, and as alternatives to incarceration on a case-by-case basis (Johnstone & Van Ness, 2007; Morrison, 2007).

Much like restorative justice programs being implemented in some American courtrooms and diversionary programs, some schools adopted a framework based on restorative justice practices including the use of conferencing, dialogue circles, and peer mediation. The programs emphasized the reparation of relationships, forging connections between school community members, and a reduced reliance on the use of zero tolerance policies and other punitive disciplinary policies as the primary measure to discipline students within schools (González, 2012; Morrison, 2007). Expanding beyond conferencing, mediation and diversion, schools integrating restorative justice practices established a more comprehensive application of practices to include a continuum of approaches centered upon a restorative justice framework (González & Cairns, 2011). Restorative practices within schools can include affective statements, peacemaking circles, peace rooms, restorative conferences, peer mediation, family group conferences, community conferences, problem solving circles or groups, proactive circles, reactive circles, opening/closing circles, and student storytelling. The nomenclature surrounding restorative approaches implemented by different schools are diverse; however the underlying framework focuses upon interconnectedness, community, respect, inclusion, integration or reintegration into the school setting, tolerance, empowerment, and self-reflection (Cavanagh, 2009; Drewery, 2004; González, 2012; Hopkins, 2004; McCluskey, 2018; Morrison & Vaandering, 2012; Wachtel, 2013; Zehr, 2005).

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