In the wake of studies that have shown the discriminatory, adverse consequences, and ineffectiveness of “zero-tolerance” suspension and expulsion disciplinary school policies in addressing school violence, this study examined the features and effectiveness of “restorative justice” policies in New York City schools.
With a focus on prioritizing relationships and underlying causes of conflict, restorative justice in schools involves interactions between school staff and misbehaving students to strengthen social and emotional competencies, create a supportive school environment, and improve racial and gender equity. High schools in New York City’s District 18 were eligible to participate in the current evaluation of a restorative justice approach to disciplinary policy and practice. The restorative justice program consisted of two components: relationship-building circles and harm circles. The overall purpose of these circles was to build relationships through facilitated dialogue and cooperative activities. Harm circles convened students in response to conflict, with the goal of responding to specific incidents of misbehavior. A process evaluation examined the faithfulness of the program to the restorative justice model, and the outcome evaluation examined whether the restorative justice programming was effective in reducing disciplinary incidents, the use of suspension to discipline students, and improving school climate compared to control schools. Schools that used the restorative justice programs were compared with schools that did not participate in the program. The outcome evaluation found no evidence of the impact of restorative justice on student problem behaviors, suspensions, or school climate, although participants had positive perceptions of restorative justice and its influence on student behavior, conflict, and suspensions. 4 tables, 2 figures, and 29 references