Book Review: Restorative Justice Pocketbook

Restorative Justice

An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind - Gandhi

This is a very simple overview to the practice of restorative justice, geared towards school teachers in a school setting.  RJ is growing around the world as many countries are taking this as an alternative approach to punitive justice.  I was first introduced to this during a workshop on First Nations ways of building and sustaining communities while at OISE.  It was fascinating to see how it was used in small communities, and it was something that makes so much sense for teachers.  It also something that many teachers around the world already do, possibly without even knowing that is what they are doing.  In my opinion, it just makes sense, and though it may take a lot more time, it is well worth the investment.  I don't have a great deal of issues of discipline with my class (being engaged and having fun is the best classroom management technique, in my opinion), but when I do see a wrong-doing done, I try to follow this philosophy.

Restorative Justice 
- viewing crime/wrongdoing through a 'relational' lens - understanding that harm has been done to people and relationships
- creating a space for respectful dialogue
- empowers the victim and gives them a voice
- understanding what when such harm is done, it creates obligations and liabilities
- focus on repairing the harm and making things right WITH the victim
- constructive use of authority

Punitive Justice
- coming down hard on the wrongdoer and applying a penalty of a sanction
- punishment is done TO other people
- impose high levels of limit setting
- little or no support is provided to either party, and their input is not considered
- top down, authoritarian approach

RJ spends a lot of time focusing on the emotional needs of all parties involved.  It also recognizes that when you (the teacher) step into the role of disciplinary, that you are now part of the situation.  Your emotional needs also matter.  When you (acting as an agent of the larger learning community, the school) get involved in a disciplinary issue, it sends an implicit message to the entire school community.  It is a matter of what the school values.  If the punishment is heavy from the top, it sends the message that the adults are the final word, and that the voice of the students doesn't matter (punitive).  When the response comes as an open dialogue, it sends the message that this is a space where we can manage our issues in an open and transparent way (restorative).

The authors offer a six step process.

Six Stages of RJ chats

1) Engagement - It is about problem solving and not blame.  This is a tough paradigm shift to get over, and it is important that the parties involved understand that.  Before you even begin speaking, there needs to be an understanding that everybody is going to work together to solve this problem.

2) Reflection - This is all about encouraging thoughtfulness and empathy.  These are values that are supported by many character education systems (IB included).  The main point here is to allow both parties to explain themselves, and to get a whole picture of what happened and to allow the victim a chance to hear why they were on the opposite side of a hurtful action.  The author of the book suggests avoiding why questions (why did you do that?) and instead focusing on the thinking behind the action (what were you expecting would happen? what made you decided to do that?).  At this point it would also be a good strategy to find our who else has been affected by the incident.  What third parties have may been wronged here as well?  It is important to focus on the questions, and not lecture and answer the questions for the student.  They need to think about it, and if they don't, it nullifies the entire process.

3) Understanding the Harm/Impact - Now, it is the victims turn to respond. Until now, they have been quiet.  This is an invitation to get the true feelings of how the situation affected them.  I find it really interesting that the author also suggests that the teachers express how it makes them feel, and how students actions can affect a learning environment. Making this explicit will help both parties see the broader side of their actions.

4) Acknowledgement - After the victim shares their feelings, it is time to ask the accused (?) to go reflect on what was said.  Again, this is part of the empathy building.  Understanding how others feel as a result of your actions.  Ideally, one is looking for an apology, but not a canned apology to get it over with.  Hopefully they have something more substantial to add than just a simple sorry that can mean nothing.  As the author states, "don't make assumptions about the students knowing how to formulate a genuine apology.  Apologizing is an advanced social skill that is both a science and art form."  This is important.  Apologizing is not something that comes naturally (especially to ten year olds), and has to be carefully approached.  How?  I have no idea.  I wish the author had gone into more detail on this, because it is a really interesting point, one that holds a lot of truth but I just cannot wrap my head around.

5) Agreement - Here, we co-construct (all three parties, victim, accused and teacher) a plan to make things better.  It is important that we come up with a plan that all parties agree on.  Again, this goes back to the paradigm shift from #1.  The teachers role is to facilitate  not to offer ideas.  The two parties should be the ones who are heavily invested at this point to making this come to a fair and amiable conclusion.

6) Follow-Up - I imagine that this is often the stage that gets ignored due to the busy nature of schools, but it really should be the most important.  If the parties agree to some kind of terms, we need to check back and see if those terms have been met, or if those terms felt fair to both sides (or even if the terms were completed!).  It is a learning process.  If they decided on terms that were not fair, they should acknowledge that and learn from that mistake.  It is also a good time to reflect on how we have changed as people as a result of the incident.  What did we learn from this?  What will we do differently in the future?

This is obviously good for little incidents on the playground or in class, but what about big events, serious issues?  Well it follows the same progression as above, but the formality of the situation is increased.  Instead of being between two students a teacher, it might be between parents (all parties) or communities.  It gets more serious as more people are affected, and the overall tone of situation is increased.  Can you imagine an entire circle sitting around discussing a violent crime, with the victim, accused and entire community involved?  I have seen it (recorded, not live) and it is tense, but powerful.  This is more along the lines of what First Nations people call Circle Justice.  For an amazing look at this, I love the book Touching Spirit Bear.  Astounding.

Simply put, the community is now responsible for the Justice, and the community decides what the punishment will be.  This is in start contrast to the punitive approach, where the decision is made by one person, and the sanctions are usually pre-determined.  This is negotiated, personalized, and emergent.

There are some fascinating books out there on the history of social justice, and how it is used in Indigenous cultures.  It is such as interesting topic, and so counter-intuitive to our modern system of justice.  As a brief and simple introduction, this is a nice little book.


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