August 2015

Children have an innate sense of restorative justice

August 07, 2015

Children as young as three show a natural inclination towards restorative justice fed by a strong concern over the welfare of victims, say researchers.

A new study, published today in Current Biology, reveals three and five-year-olds are sensitive to harm to others and given a choice would rather restore things to help the victim than punish the perpetrator.

The researchers say the findings, based on experiments with 112 three-year-olds and 79 five-year-olds in Germany, provide insights into the roots of justice in human society.

Previous studies have shown children are more likely to share with a puppet that helps another individual than with one who behaves badly.

They also prefer to see punishment delivered to a doll that deserves it than one that doesn’t. By the age of six, children will pay a price to punish fictional and real peers. Preschoolers can also be encouraged with threats of punishment to behave more generously.

In the latest studies the children were given the chance to take items away from a puppet that had “taken” them from another.

The research team at Max Planck Institute in Leipzig who ran the experiments found children were as likely to intervene on behalf of a puppet “victim” as they were for themselves.

Further, three-year-olds preferred to return an item than to remove it – and when that was not possible would make the item inaccessible so it could not be taken by anyone other than the owner.

“It appears that in humans, intervening on the behalf of others begins with a concern for the victim before becoming focused on consequences for the perpetrator,” the researchers, from the UK and Germany, conclude.

Co-author Dr Keith Jensen at the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester says the findings can be of use in early education settings.

“Rather than punish children for wrong-doings or discuss the wrong-doings of others in punitive or perpetrator-focused ways, children might better understand harm done to the victim and restoration as the solution,” he says.

“The chief implication is that a concern for others – empathy, for example – is a core component of a sense of justice.”

The researchers say tracking the development of a sense of justice in young children helps show how this trait evolves.

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Victim of crime finds voice as restorative justice speaker

August 07, 2015

A woman whose husband was stabbed outside their Oxfordshire home has told how “restorative justice” has allowed her to come to terms with the attack.

Coral Kent, 41, was the victim of a road rage incident which escalated when her husband Eddie was slashed with a knife.

Mr Kent’s attacker received a 12 month prison-term, suspended for two years, after he admitted assault.

Since meeting her husband’s attacker, Mrs Kent has become a spokeswoman for the restorative justice scheme.

In March she addressed the House of Lords, on behalf of Thames Valley Probation, about her experiences of the scheme.

“Big crowds don’t bother me and these people were quite tame compared to those I’d come across when I used to work as a bingo caller,” she said.

Mrs Kent, who has been a carer for her husband since he underwent a triple heart bypass, continued: “It made me realise there is help for the victim.

“The first question I asked my husband’s attacker was ‘Why?’

“He looked me in the eye and apologised profusely,” she said.

“Some will say he had to be there but it was what I got out of it, it’s all about the victim.

“If I’d not taken part in the scheme I’d still be angry today.”

Russian invitation

She later represented Thames Valley Probation at a conference in Oxford, at a youth offending centre in High Wycombe and at America Square Conference Centre in London, before addressing an international conference at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford.

Mrs Kent, from south Oxfordshire, said: “I told how, if used in the right way, restorative justice can be a great help to the victim.

“Guests from Russia and Germany invited me to talk in their countries but I cannot because of personal circumstances.”

Rather than attacking the criminal justice system for the offender’s non-custodial sentence, Mrs Kent is pleased he was not jailed.

“That would have been too easy, with three meals a day, TV and X-Box,” she said.

Re-offending down 55%

“Instead, he had to meet me face-to-face, listen to the impact of what he did to us and pull his socks up.”

Four years on, Mr Kent’s attacker has remained out of jail.

The scheme targets the victims and perpetrators of violence or household burglary (or both). It cannot be used for domestic abuse, sexual offending, child abuse or for cases found guilty after a trial.

Thames Valley Probation was the first in the country to offer restorative justice to the courts in 2009, as part of a community or prison sentence.

In 2010 Thames Valley Probation won the Howard League for Penal reform award for their work in this area.

A probation spokeswoman said: “The evidence speaks for itself. Of those offenders in the community who have taken part in restorative justice, there has been a 55% reduction in re-offending.”

All probation services in England and Wales hope to have introduced the restorative justice scheme by the end of the financial year.

A Victim Support spokeswoman said “every victim should be offered a choice of restorative justice”.

She added: “It is not suitable for all victims and full risk assessment must be undertaken in complex cases.”

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Report into sexism at Dalhousie dentistry school released today

August 07, 2015

HALIFAX – A much anticipated report into sexism, misogyny and homophobia at the Dalhousie School of dentistry was released Monday morning and there are several recommendations for the university.

After meeting with 150 students, faculty, staff, administrators and members of the university board, and the public community over a three month period, the report identified five major themes:

  1. The culture within the Faculty of Dentistry permits incidents of sexism, misogyny, homophobia and racism. The incidents were described as anything from isolated to rampant and as affecting both staff and students. Given the number, the duration and the range of people who members of task force about them, they cannot be dismissed as isolated. One alumnus said dentistry lived in a time warp, oblivious to social progress.
  2. There is a distrust and suspicious attitude about the university’s response to reports of discrimination. “Swept under the rug” is a phrase that was heard over and over again, according to the task force. The Faculty of Dentistry has no formal complaints and report system, and most people seem afraid to complain informally for fear of retaliation.
  3. On a whole, the report finds the university’s policies and processes for dealing with equity issues are as good or better than other Canadian universities. IT says “we do not see a need to redraft them”. Instead it suggests making the university more familiar with how and when complaints need more support and protection from retaliation. The report makes suggestions on how the university might handle cases like the Facebook incident in the future.
  4. The best route for the future is to focus on systematic change. Recognizing the connections between the group of complaints holds more promise than dealing with each incident in isolation.
  5. Education and research is the key to significant and lasting change.President Richard Florizone appointed three members to the task force. Their objective was to examine the events of the Dalhousie dentistry Facebook scandal independently. The review was led by Constance Backhouse, a professor at the University of Ottawa who is recognized for work on sex discrimination.

    The group assigned to the task force were to see what they could learn to help in the efforts to dismantle discrimination and harassment in the future.

    The “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” was brought to the attention of the university in December 2014. However the realities of the Facebook group’s contents didn’t come to light until students and faculty members returned from Christmas holiday.

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This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

August 07, 2015

At least £29million is being made available to Police and Crime Commissioners and charities to help deliver Restorative Justice for victims over the coming three years, Justice Minister Damian Green has announced.

The cash – which has been recovered from offenders – will be used to help finance Restorative Justice across the country.

Restorative Justice is a process that brings together victims and offenders, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.

The funding announcement coincides with Restorative Justice Week, which is aimed at raising awareness and understanding of Restorative Justice.

Justice Minister Damian Green said:

Many victims of crime get to see sentences handed down in the courts, but it’s not always enough to help them move on with their lives. Restorative Justice gives victims the opportunity to look offenders in the eye and explain to them the real impact the crime has had on their life.

The process also provides a chance for offenders to face the consequences of their actions. Restorative Justice is not a soft option and will not lead to offenders escaping punishment. Crimes of a serious nature will continue to be progressed through the courts.

Research shows that Restorative Justice is associated with high levels of victim satisfaction and can also help reduce reoffending by offenders.

Ministry of Justice research of a number of Restorative Justice pilots found that 85% of victims that participated in the conferencing method of Restorative Justice were satisfied with the experience. It also found the process was associated with an estimated 14% reduction in the frequency of re-offending.

For the remaining six months of the current financial year, £5m has been provided by the Ministry of Justice for Restorative Justice. Of that, £3.85m will be distributed to Police and Crime Commissioners. A further £10m will be made available for 2014-15, with £6.25m distributed to PCCs. In 2015-16, at least £14m has been set aside.

Today’s funding announcement marks an increase on money made available for Restorative Justice in 2012-13, when just over £1m was spent by the Ministry of Justice on Restorative Justice.

The money being handed to PCCs is part of a wider pot of funding for victims of at least £83 million through to 2015-16. PCCs will receive the victims’ services and Restorative Justice funding in a single allocation so that they can make decisions about the services that best meet local need.

Funding for Restorative Justice will also be provided to the Restorative Justice Council, Restorative Solutions and the Youth Justice Board.

As part of Restorative Justice Week last year, an Action Plan was published to help bring about a step change in the delivery and provision of Restorative Justice across England and Wales. The Ministry of Justice is publishing a progress report one year on and a refreshed plan which further demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to Restorative Justice.

The Ministry of Justice has also announced that the Restorative Justice Council will develop key Restorative Justice service standards for training, practice and supervision, as well an accreditation framework. These will be available by January 2014 as part of one of the commitments of the Action Plan.

Victim Support lead on Restorative Justice, Gaynor McKeown said:

We welcome the Government’s commitment to fund Restorative Justice. Victims tell us that they want to see offenders punished, but also they don’t want to see their offender commit another crime.

Our work shows that when Restorative Justice is planned around the victim’s wishes, it helps them move on with their lives, and can reduce crime by getting offenders to appreciate the impact of their actions on others.

We look forward to working closely with our partners to ensure Restorative Justice services meet the needs of victims and can be accessed where and when they want them.

Notes to editors

Restorative Justice (RJ) processes bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.

An RJ activity can include any of the following:

A face-to-face meeting (sometimes called a RJ conference or victim offender conference), involving a trained facilitator, the victim, secondary victims (not necessarily mention in prosecutions) and the offender(s) and supporters, usually family members. Professionals, such as social workers, and representatives of the wider community may also be involved. Such meetings might well conclude with an agreement for further steps to be taken, such as some sort of reparation but this is not mandatory. In certain circumstances live video or audio/telephone can be used as means of bringing parties together;

A community conference, involving members of the community which has been affected by a particular crime and all or some of the offenders. This is facilitated in the same way as a RJ conference but it differs in that it can involve many people.

In-direct communication. (sometimes called ‘shuttle RJ’ or ‘shuttle mediation’) involves a trained facilitator carefully passing messages back and forth between the victim, offender and supporters, who do not meet. This can also be by recorded video, audio/telephone or written correspondence This approach can lead to a face-to-face meeting at a later stage.

The Crime and Courts Act 2013 places pre-sentence RJ on a statutory footing for the first time. It makes it explicit that the courts will be able to use their existing power to defer sentencing to allow for an RJ activity. Both victim and offender must be willing to participate in all cases. The provisions on pre-sentence RJ in the Crime and Courts Act are due to be commenced in December 2013 and guidance will also be published.

For more information, contact the Ministry of Justice Newsdesk on 0203 334 3536.

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Campus Sexual Misconduct: Restorative Justice Approaches to Enhance Compliance with Title IX Guidance

August 07, 2015

by Steven Bengis, David S. Prescott, and Joan Tabachnick

The Question
Is there a Role for Restorative Justice Practices on College Campuses?

The Research
Mary Koss, Jay Wilgus and Kaaren Williamsen offer a strong argument and excellent overview describing the possible use of restorative justice practices on college campuses. In response to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL), which established guidelines for responding to sexual assault and harassment on campuses, Koss and her colleagues argue that institutions of higher education are responsible for addressing at least 42 types of sexual behavior with the goals of eliminating misconduct, preventing its recurrence and remedying its effects. A straightforward compliance approach to the DCL fosters a quasi-criminal justice approach that may not be suited to all sexual misconduct situations. Therefore, the current one-size-fits all response may be too narrow for the scope of sexual misconduct and the desired outcomes. Koss and her colleagues suggest that the DCL guidance does allow for the use of a restorative justice approach in at least four ways: as a resolution process, as a victim impact process, as a sanctioning process, and as a reintegration process. The options they outline would be in addition to the current criminal justice option (off campus) and the quasi-criminal justice, investigative and judicial responses to sexual misconduct offered on campus.

Koss, Wilgus, and Williamsen’s article is helpful in articulating the range of sexual misconduct that campuses are required to address. These are described in charts that outline behaviorally specific descriptions of sexual violence (e.g., contact, rape and attempted rape) and a second chart describing sexual harassment (e.g., gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion).

For those that may not be familiar with restorative justice (RJ), the conceptual framework is that harm has been done and someone is responsible for repairing that harm. Furthermore, there is an understanding that the harm has a direct impact on the person who has been victimized but also an indirect impact on that person’s friends and family, the friends and family of the responsible person, and the larger campus community as well. This approach is not for everyone or for every situation. For example, two key requirements for any RJ process are: the person who has been victimized wants to utilize this process and the responsible person accepts full responsibility for the harm as a precondition for participation.

There is no standard RJ sexual misconduct program to replicate, but there is a body of research which shows the safe and successful use of RJ on sexual misconduct in community settings. As mentioned earlier, the RJ process can be used in many ways, offering a chance to formalize reparations, counseling, and campus community service. It can also involve the victim’s input to add in additional requirements such as avoiding similar class schedules, mandatory supervision, and if any of the agreed upon sanctions are violated, the responsible party can still be referred to traditional sanctioning.

Bottom Line: With at least 42 types of sexual behaviors assigned as sexual violence or sexual misconduct, a one-size-fits all response through a quasi-criminal justice is not enough to end and ultimately help to prevent further harm.

Implications for Professionals
New Federal mandates requiring college campuses to create policies and procedures to address sexual assault also provide a unique opportunity for professionals in our field who want to become involved. While knowledge of adolescents and young adults who abuse is badly needed, we may need to acknowledge first that the information we offer focuses on a smaller population of adolescents and young adults who have been successfully prosecuted. However, we suggest that the knowledge of assessment, treatment, safety plans, and other important tools will be essential information for college campuses as they expand their thinking on this topic. Furthermore, as we enter this new “arena” we must be more ready to listen than to start with expounding on our wealth of knowledge. Working with victim-advocates requires deeply respectful conversations around values, differing perspectives, and the research relevant to college populations. The attention to campus sexual assault offers is an opportunity for dialogue that we hope many of you will embrace with humility, patience, and the wisdom and knowledge that you possess that college administrators need to hear.

Implications for the Field
We cannot urge the field more strongly to embrace the challenge of working closely with college administrators and other campus staff as well as victim advocate organizations to address the complex issues associated with campus sexual assault. Our approach to accountability, consequences, safety, and victim protection in the community may be valuable information for campuses required to fulfill federal mandates. While expulsion is a direction that some campuses are taking, expulsion fails to: 1) shield the campus from liability (several high profile lawsuits against such actions are currently pending), 2) create safety for the wider community or other colleges when those expelled re-apply to other schools, 3) honor the varied types of sexual behaviors and sexual abuse that may occur and the chilling impact mandatory expulsion may have on reporting, and 4) recognize (as this article aptly states) the opportunities for restorative justice when/if the circumstances allow for it. This is an opportune moment for the integration of the work of victim advocates, those with knowledge of abusers, and the larger campus community to work closely together to help colleges create safety and accountability. It is a moment that should not be lost.

Campus response to sexual violence is increasingly governed by federal law and administrative guidance such as the 1972 Title IX, the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), and the 2013 Violence Against Women Act. Educational institutions are directed to expand disciplinary responses and establish coordinated action to eliminate sexual violence and remedy its effects. Compliance fosters a quasi-criminal justice approach not suited to all sexual misconduct and inconsistent with developing practice in student conduct management. This article envisions restorative justice (RJ) enhancements to traditional student conduct processes that maintain compliance, expand options, empower victim choice, and increase responsiveness to DCL aims. The article (1) defines sexual violence and sexual harassment within the DCL scope, (2) elaborates the DCL position on permissible alternative resolutions and differentiates mediation from RJ, (3) sequences action steps from case report to finalization, including both restorative and traditional justice pathways, and (4) discusses building support for innovation beginning with existing campus response.

Koss, M.P., Wilgus, J.K., & Williamsen, K.M. (2014). Campus Sexual Misconduct: Restorative Justice Approaches to Enhance Compliance With Title IX Guidance. Trauma, Violence & Abuse. Vol. 15(3) 242-257. DOI: DOI: 10.1177/1524838014521500.

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Improving School Climate to Reduce Bullying

August 07, 2015

There seems to be no shortage of bad news about bullying in Canada these days. In the fall of 2011, for example, two suicides – one in Montreal and the other in Ottawa – were attributed to incessant bullying endured by the two high school students.[1] These extreme effects of bullying are only the tip of a very large iceberg. We know, for example, that nearly all children and youth witness bullying at one time or another, and many – about half– are directly involved in bullying sometime during a given school year. Most worrisome, however, are the children and youth who are involved in bullying – as a bully, a victim, or both – regularly and frequently, meaning once or more times a week. This group includes nearly 20 percent of students – one in every five kids in nearly every school. This means that many kids’ lives are being disrupted and scarred by bullying.

Bullying harms kids in nearly every way imaginable. Minimally, it disrupts their learning, as kids who are victimized tend to avoid school through absence in order to avoid the bullying. The stress of bullying causes them to suffer anxiety and depression, and it undermines their feelings of safety and connection to school, both of which are foundational to the learning process. Because many kids who bully other children are also victimized themselves, these effects are often found in all of the children involved, victimized and bullying alike. Additionally, some recent research indicates that children who witness bullying are also at risk for serious negative effects, including school disengagement, school avoidance, and, consequently, lower academic achievement.

While this portrait seems bleak, and bullying remains a serious and intractable problem in our schools, there are nonetheless reasons to be optimistic for the future. Many educators now feel a strong professional obligation to stop bullying, and schools, school boards, and education ministries are using resources and policy to begin to address the problem.

We are fortunate in Canada to have PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Preventing Violence Network; see, an organization that brings together leading bullying researchers with community and professional organizations devoted to the cause of bullying prevention. One of PREVNet’s goals is to change the way Canadians think about bullying. When the idea of bullying as a social problem first started to seep into the public consciousness in the 1980s, there was considerable focus on questions like, “What makes a bully or victim, and what do we need to do to change them?” Consequently, responses often were aimed at the kids directly involved, typically in the form of support for victims and punishment for bullies. PREVNet has pushed our thinking forward by arguing that bullying “is a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions.”[2]This new way of thinking about bullying highlights the complex and powerful relationship dynamics that underpin bullying. It also helps explain why children and youth can get trapped into relationship roles (as a victim and/or bully) from which they have much difficulty extricating themselves. And it provides a compelling rationale for the important role that adults – educators, parents, and community leaders – have in intervening in bullying situations and helping all of the children involved to learn better ways of relating to each other.

A relational understanding of bullying also connects directly to the growing appreciation of the role of the social climate within schools and its connection to bullying. School climate is a complex concept that has been researched for many decades but still remains widely misunderstood. Jonathan Cohen and his colleagues (2009) provide a comprehensive review of the school climate concept, defining it at the most general level as the “quality and character of school life”.[3] They break the concept down into four broad dimensions:

  1. Safety: physical, social, and emotional safety
  2. Teaching and learning: quality instruction; social, ethical, and academic learning; leadership; professional development
  3. Relationships: positive relationships across the school community; respect for diversity; open communication and collaboration; engagement in and connectedness to school
  4. Environment: clean, well-maintained school; adequate space and resources

Research over many decades has confirmed that these aspects of school climate exert a strong influence on the experiences of students, teachers, and staff within the school. For example, positive school climate promotes positive self-esteem and self-concept in students. It is also vital to their academic learning. Students in schools with positive climates are absent less frequently, feel a strong connection to their school, and consequently get better grades. Not surprisingly, teachers also benefit from a positive climate. The collaborative and engaging intellectual environment that is part of a positive climate improves teachers’ practice. Teachers in positive schools are more satisfied with their careers and likely to remain longer in the same schools than teachers in schools with negative climates.

Researchers have examined the link between school climate and bullying, and the trend in the findings is quite clear. Schools with negative climates tend to have more bullying problems than schools with positive climates.

In recent years, researchers have examined the link between school climate and bullying, and the trend in the findings is quite clear. Schools with negative climates tend to have more bullying problems than schools with positive climates. Researchers have not yet determined exactly why this occurs, but it is safe to say that some sequences of events ultimately leading to bullying originate in the school climate. For example, studies suggest that positive climate fosters in children an attachment to their school. Children who are strongly attached to their school feel, essentially, that their teachers help, support, and protect them as needed. When these students get messages that discourage bullying and promote positive values from the staff, they are inclined to listen and accept them. Students with a weak attachment to their school, on the other hand, are inclined to reject these messages. Ultimately this trickles down to the kids’ behaviour in the playground, corridor, and school bus; those who have internalized the school’s messages are less likely to bully and more likely to do something constructive to stop bullying when they see it happening.

A recent study from the U.S. points to another explanation for the link between climate and bullying.[4] This study discovered that students in schools with poor climates were less likely to tell a teacher or principal if they knew a peer was planning something dangerous that would hurt others because they feared that telling would get them into trouble. In short, they did not trust their teachers to effectively resolve the situation while looking out for them at the same time. These findings have important implications for schools wanting to improve their climates and reduce bullying. Students who lack trust in their teachers and principals will not confide in them and not report bullying incidents to them. Consequently, the bullying will grow and fester beneath a cloak of silence, and the adults and many bystanders who should be acting to end bullying will never be mobilized to do so. (It must be said that there are likely more explanations for the link between climate and bullying than I cover here.)

How to avert this downward spiral? I have argued elsewhere about the value of using the principles of restorative justice to inform teachers’ responses to bullying incidents, and I will summarize them here.[5] I believe this approach is not only effective in dealing with specific incidents when they arise, but can go a long way in fostering the development of a positive climate within a classroom and a school. A restorative approach is based on the premise that social order (i.e., good behaviour) is an important goal. But unlike punitive approaches, restorative practices achieve this goal by supporting children who act out, bully, and otherwise harm their peers. In a restorative approach, relationships – more than individuals’ behaviours – are the main foci of concern, and discussions revolve around how relationships are harmed through bullying rather than who broke what rules. Ultimately, restorative practices aim to hold children who hurt others accountable for their actions through meaningful consequences that restore damaged relationships, repair hurt feelings, and re-integrate these children into the social group. There are formal procedures in the restorative approach that I do not cover here; these require training, and many schools and school boards across Canada have sought or are seeking this training. Instead, I provide an informal procedure – a list of questions – that can guide educators in the process of working through incidents with students.

Restorative practices aim to hold children who hurt others accountable for their actions through meaningful consequences that restore damaged relationships, repair hurt feelings, and re-integrate these children into the social group.

1. What has happened? The teacher should ask those involved what happened, fleshing out the details of the events and seeking clarification when necessary with each of the students. Differing perspectives lead children (and teachers, as well) to perceive the same events in different ways, so teachers should not be put off or unduly suspicious when they get different stories from the children involved. When all accounts have been offered, the teacher can negotiate with the children a reasonable account of the events. It is critical that the teacher listen with curiosity to all sides of the story and work hard to understand what the students are telling her.

2. What were you thinking and feeling when this occurred? This question is useful in exploring the circumstances surrounding the bullying. While we are often (and correctly) compelled to focus on the bullying child’s behaviour and the victimized child’s feelings, it is important to also explore the bullying child’s feelings and the victimized child’s behaviour in the incident. This can create opportunities for promoting personal accountability and responsibility, so that children learn that others do not “make them do it.” This line of dialogue will also illuminate more appropriate ways for children to express the feelings that may be played out in the bullying behaviour.

3. Who has been affected and how has it affected them? This question encourages teachers to consider the impacts of the bullying on other children and even the teacher herself. Direct effects of bullying are relatively easy to observe or to uncover with appropriate questioning: who was involved and how were they hurt? There may also be indirect effects of bullying on witnesses. For example, some may become uncomfortable in the classroom with the bullying child present or nearby. These effects are usually less obvious and only emerge with additional probing. A complete understanding of these impacts is essential for deciding the most effective ways for the bullying child to make amends. Additionally, by exploring these effects, the teacher helps bullying children learn the true impact of their hurtful behaviour.

4. How can the harm be rectified? One of the key elements of restorative justice is the necessity to set right the wrongs that have been committed. This is a critical step to restoring relationships and re-integrating bullying children into the social group of the class. This necessarily requires input from those hurt in the incident. Amends can be made in any number of ways, and the key consideration is that the perpetrator and victims concur that the consequences will facilitate healing. These could involve writing a letter of apology to the victimized children, replacing stolen or broken possessions, providing a service to the classroom or school community, among many other possible options. The key considerations are that the consequences be meaningful to the children and that they have their intended effect: to promote accountability without further marginalizing any of the children involved.

There is little doubt that the public’s expectations of teachers and school officials regarding bullying have increased substantially in recent years, a fact reflected in recent legislative and regulatory changes across Canada. Today’s schools are undoubtedly complex systems to navigate. I would submit, though, that underneath these changes the bedrock on which great teaching is founded has not changed. That bedrock is relationships. Great teachers build trusting, warm, and caring relationships with all of their students, notwithstanding the challenges this can sometimes pose, and lead them toward academic and social success. And if there is a world without bullying in our future, it will mostly likely reflect those kinds of relationships.

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Restorative Justice: A Different Approach to Discipline

August 07, 2015

By Deva Dalporto

Suspensions at Bunche High School, a continuation school in a high-crime, high-poverty community of Oakland, Calif., dropped by 51% last year. Disrespect for teachers has declined; the school is safer. Students are more focused on their studies and many have stopped cutting class.

Teachers at the school say these positive results are due in large part to a radically different approach to discipline called restorative justice: a bold alternative to the typical zero tolerance policies that lead to mandatory suspensions and expulsions. “Restorative justice is a major cultural shift from a punitive model to a restorative model,” said David Yusem, Program Manager of Restorative Justice for the Oakland Unified School District, one of the first districts in the nation to embrace the practice.

Oakland first introduced the program in 2006 at its Cole Middle School. District leaders planned to close the school due to low test scores when it started a restorative justice pilot program. In the three years since embracing the practice, suspensions dropped by 87%, violence decreased dramatically and expulsions became non-existent. The district took notice and in 2009, it overhauled its system and made restorative justice the new model for handling disciplinary problems. In 2011 it hired a program manager and created a system to roll it out to all the schools in the district.

What Is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is a revolutionary program based on respect, responsibility, relationship-building and relationship-repairing. It focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment. It aims to keep kids in school and to create a safe environment where learning can flourish. And it appears to be working incredibly well.

“Restorative justice is a fundamental change in how you respond to rule violations and misbehavior,” said Ron Claassen, a pioneer of the program and Director of Restorative Justice in Schools. “The typical response to bad behavior is punishment. Restorative justice resolves disciplinary problems in a cooperative and constructive way.”

If a student misbehaves and a restorative justice system is in place, the offending student is given the chance to come forward and make things right. He sits down in a circle and works together with the teacher and the affected parties to work it out.

To facilitate the process, the teacher or mediator asks non-judgmental, restorative questions like, “What happened? How did it happen? What can we do to make it right?” Through their discussions, they all gain a better understanding as to what happened, why it happened and how the damage can be fixed. “They’ll talk about what can be done to repair the harm,” Yurem said about the process at OUSD, “They’ll come up with a plan and fulfill that plan. And hopefully the relationship will be stronger. It’s really all about relationships—building and repairing them.”

In Oakland, schools are using a three-tiered model of prevention/intervention/supported reentry. The first tier is all about community building as a preventive measure. They have regular classroom circles in which the students sit in with a restorative justice coordinator or a peer facilitator and share their inner most feelings.

“The circles are based on indigenous practices that value inclusiveness, respect, dealing with things as a community and supporting healing,” Yurem explained. “Kids really resonate with this process. I’ve seen kids share things that I was extremely surprised by, like eighth grade boys talking about what scares them. To seem weak in their world is a life-threatening thing so I was really impressed.” All of this sharing builds the foundation in which restorative discipline thrives. The second tier is intervention, in which teachers use restorative discipline practices like mediation and family/group circles to discuss and mend the harm that was done.

And the final tier supports the reentry of students who have been out of school due to suspension, expulsion, truancy or incarceration. Oakland schools aim to create a “wraparound” supportive environment when these students return. The goal is to set the kids up for success no matter what their past.

A System In Which Kids Help the Teacher Create a Respect Agreement

Claassen was first introduced to the concept of restorative justice in 1982 when he was working in the juvenile justice system. Eight years later, his wife Roxanne Classsen started teaching at Raisin City Elementary School in Fresno County and took the practices into her classroom. “I was seeing incredible results in the justice system,” said Ron Classsen, “We thought there was a good place for practicing it in schools.”

Administrators took notice of Roxanne Classsen’s techniques, and soon the pair was approached to train other teachers in the practice. Today they coach teachers and graduate students from all over in restorative discipline at Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies.

“Restorative justice works really well in schools,” said Roxanne Claassen. “Students respond to it because they see it’s a fair structure and they become more cooperative.”

Restorative justice requires a major paradigm shift for everyone involved. The teacher is no longer the big boss. “It’s a sharing of power between students and teachers,” said Matt Gehrett, Executive Director for Online and Continuing Education at Fresno Pacific. “It’s very empowering for students.”

In the restorative justice model, children play an integral part in creating the climate. They and their teacher create a classroom respect agreement and all agree to be held accountable. In her classroom, Roxanne Classsen worked with students at the beginning of every year to write a “Respect Agreement.” Together they determine how they will treat each other to create a positive classroom community.

The contract is an extremely effective way of maintaining harmony in the classroom. “Teachers can’t say, ‘Here are my rules, sign them,’” said Yurem. “That doesn’t work. There’s no ownership for the students in that. If the children help create the rules, then they have ownership. And if they break them, they can be referred back to them.”

Consequences That Are Fair and Not Puntive

In her classroom, if a student violated the respect agreement, Roxanne Claassen would remind the student of the agreement and ask him if he wanted to honor it. Ninety percent of the time, the student did, and the problem ended there. If further action was required, Claassen would work with the student to find a solution. “You try to work together with the student to find a solution. You say, ‘Here’s the problem, what can do to fix it?’ The message you’re sending the child is, ‘I’m not against you. I’m for you. I want you to succeed’,” said Claassen. And that message is very effective at building trust between teacher and student.

In one instance, two of Claassen’s eighth grade boys broke a paper towel dispenser in the bathroom. At first, no one admitted responsibility. So Claassen told them, “We have a restorative discipline system here so we accept responsibility and can make things as right as possible. But we can’t do that unless someone accepts responsibility.”

The boys admitted they’d done it. Claassen called a meeting with all the people involved or affected by the incident -the boys, their parents and the custodian. They talked about what happened and everyone was heard. “In that process the custodian had a chance to let the students know how difficult it is to replace a dispenser,” said Claassen. “It gave the students incredible knowledge of a real-world situation in a way a suspension never could, and relationships improved instead of being damaged.”

One of the students couldn’t afford to pay to replace the dispenser. So the student himself suggested that he could work with the custodian to pay his debt. He did. And he enjoyed it so much he continued to help the custodian long after he finished his restitution.

Positive Discipline, Positive Behavior

Teachers who use restorative discipline practices find the behavior in their classrooms improves dramatically. They have better relationships with their students and therefore less stress from unresolved conflicts.

“Restorative discipline improved my relationships with students,” said Roxanne Claassen. “Instead of making the relationships more difficult it brought us together and improved our interactions.” And it’s more efficient too. “You spend less time wasted on discipline and have more time available for teaching and interaction when you use restorative practices,” Roxanne Claassen observed. “Students aren’t afraid to admit when they’ve done something wrong as they are in a punitive environment so you save a lot of time investigating who did what.

“Students come forward if they make a mistake,” said Ron Claassen. “When you have a punitive system, the automatic response is to deny responsibility because you know you’ll get punished. With a restorative justice system in place, the incentive is to admit what you did because you know there’s going to be a restorative process to make things right.”

And one of the biggest benefits? Using restorative practices keeps kids in school. They aren’t tossed out for disrupting class or violating minor rules like children in punitive systems consistently are. Everyone works together to keep them in the classroom where they can learn. Children who are expelled from school often end up in what education reform activists call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Restorative justice seeks to stop that cycle and keep kids on track with their educations.

“Restorative justice addresses the harm caused by the offense and the harm revealed by the offense,” said Yurem. “When you get these kids talking you learn about the traumas they have faced. Maybe their brother was killed or their father was sent to prison. If you can get to the root of the cause of the offense, you’re truly stopping the cycle.”

And even if there isn’t a major underlying problem, getting kids to talk about what they did and why they did it is a more constructive way to handle disciplinary problems. “The restorative process teaches students how to resolve conflict in a positive way,” said Ron Claassen. “It helps them develop rational skills—to understand a situation, follow a process and resolve it. These are life skills they can take with them into the world.”

Coming to a School Near You?

In Oakland, restorative justice is working wonders. Their three-tired model is proving to be very effective. It’s helping to keep kids off the street and in school where they are able to learn and thrive.

“I’ve seen a child with a 0.0 GPA become class valedictorian by being engaged in this process,” said Yurem. “It works because the students feel like they have some power and worth and value. A lot of these kids are students that people had written off. Students no one believed would graduate. When all they needed was a caring adult to listen and allow them to share who they are.”

Soon restorative justice may be the norm rather than the exception when it comes to school discipline. Many districts across the country have begun to implement programs in their schools. And in California, legislation to require that schools attempt other disciplinary practices before resorting to suspension has been proposed. If passed, we could see a major surge of restorative practices in one of the country’s biggest states.

“The big vision is that this could be implemented in all schools,” said Ron Claassen. And he’s working to make that vision a reality, one classroom or district at a time.

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