Restorative Justice – a concept which makes a difference

Earlier this week, my wife and I were enthralled by a PBS Newshour report on a concept being deployed in a Colorado high school called “Restorative Justice.”  In essence, rather than suspend offenders from school, which does not resolve much of anything, the school counselors invite the offenders into a circle with their parents to discuss the conflict and various points of view. They pass around a “talking stick” which means only the person with the stick may share his or her points of view. The idea is the offenders hear the other person’s point of view, recognize how differences occur and begin a restorative process rather letting animosities fester.

The concept is straightforward, practical and replicable in many settings where conflict resolution is needed. The number of suspensions and fights have declined significantly in the Colorado high school comparing the numbers to previous year trends. Yet, the school is taking it a step further to teach the kids how to resolve conflict in a restorative circle. In other words, they are letting the kids resolve some conflicts and issues, as well as brainstorm ideas, etc. which are terrific skills to cultivate.

The news video can be accessed with the following link:

A more detailed summary of the Restorative Justice concept can also be gleaned from the attached link to an Oakland high school, which includes some metrics and data around the demographic groups affected most by suspensions and how this approach has kept kids in school.

We came away very impressed by these efforts and hope you will as well. I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts. Restorative Justice has a nice ring to it.

6 thoughts on “Restorative Justice – a concept which makes a difference

  1. Zero Tolerance, automatic suspensions, and other threatening punishments are a major waste and negative impact on our youth. Children make mistakes, they need to see them addressed and be shown other alternatives to their behavior. Throwing them out on the streets for a weeks suspension proves nothing, and serves little other than to allow them to get in other trouble. I personally believe such hard line programs show a certain laziness on the parts of the administrators.

    This program sounds like a winner. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Barney, you hit the nail on the head. The school authorities witnessed first hand that the zero tolerance policies were harmful, which led them to this concept. It also addresses civil discussion over disagreements, which we need far more of in society, not just schools. Thanks, BTG

  2. I can see a few situations where adults could also use restorative justice and the concept of a talking stick. I think this is a great concept however it would require parent by-in. I wonder how it would work in a situation where parents consider that their little Johnny could do no wrong.

    • Judy, the examples I witnessed had parents in the room. The PBS Newshour piece showed a circle where two girls had been fighting. My guess is the parents are prepped beforehand to listen and observe. I responded to Barney’s comment with your thoughts on the concept’s applicability to adults when they are less civil. Thanks, BTG

  3. I’ve seen other focus pieces and news articles on this method…used in inner city schools and gang-banger hot spots. Makes me believe this program has been in use in other parts of our country for quite a while, perhaps just slow to make it mark….like some programs that make sense, actually work and…have a positive outcome.
    Thank you BTG…positive is good.

    • Raye, I think you are right. It is slowly building a following. It seems negative echoes seem to bounce higher than positive ones. The Oakland piece is a little older than the Colorado story. Yet, It makes so much sense. We just need to talk good ideas up. Thanks, BTG

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