Restorative Justice: An Alternative to Traditional Punishment

Restorative justice is the focus of a series of reports authored by the WestEd Justice and Prevention Research Center, through funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The reports include:

  1. What Further Research is Needed on Restorative Justice in Schools?
  2. Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: Summary Findings from Interviews with Experts
  3. Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: Practitioners’ Perspectives
  4. Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: A Research Review

According to Sarah Guckenburg, a senior research associate at WestEd, the reports grew out of increasing interest among educators to reduce reliance on exclusionary disciplinary actions such as expulsion and suspension, which studies have shown increase students’ likelihood of dropping out of school and becoming involved in the criminal justice system. Research has also indicated that a disproportionate number of minority students are suspended from school, contributing to what many call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

In light of these pressing education and social justice issues, the project was a timely way to “examine why more and more schools were exploring restorative justice, what the research behind it had to say, and how, exactly, it is being practiced in school settings.”

WestEd’s project included a review of the research and literature on restorative justice. Additional reports summarized findings from interviews with experts in the field, as well as findings from surveys and interviews of practitioners working in or with schools on restorative justice practices. “The experts interviewed widely agree that current methods of handling student offenses are often not effective, and may even be backfiring,” notes WestEd’s Interviews with Experts report. “Several experts noted the history and success of [the restorative justice] approach in community and justice settings, and expressed hope for a similar impact on student disciplinary methods in U.S. schools.”

Some of the most common strategies being used in schools that are implementing restorative justice practices include the following:

  • Restorative circles. Facilitated meetings in which a group of students and a teacher come together to solve problems and resolve disciplinary issues.
  • Victim–offender mediation conferences. Meetings in which an offender and victim(s) discuss an altercation and identify ways to repair the harm that was caused.
  • Restorative questioning. A technique used to diffuse problematic situations before they can escalate into full-blown crises.

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To read the reports, see