Can we create purely non-punitive restorative programs?
Apr 04, 2011
One reason to ask this question is because there is a growing body of evidence that shows using punishment in the form of isolation, detention or suspension to address behavioral problems in schools only aggravates other issues, such as bullying, violence, substandard academic performance, the lack of parental involvement, high staff turnover and burnout.
Meanwhile, restorative practices are proving to be an effective alternative to punitive measures. They provide an effective means of creating safe, supportive learning environments, often at far less cost than the punitive means, whether the cost is measured in terms of financial outlay, the time expended on discipline issues or the stress level experienced by those in the system. And restorative measures are proving to be an effective means of addressing the school-to-prison pipeline that has become of national concern.
But can school or other programs be created that do not eventually resort to punitive measures for those who continue to misbehave? In researching various approaches to restorative school programs, most seem to continue the blend of restorative processes and punitive measures to varying degrees.
Some restorative school programs offer restorative interventions in the form of various circle processes when conflict occurs. Someone somewhere in the hierarchy of the school determines which cases will be referred to RJ facilitators and which ones will be handled in the traditional punitive way. These programs produce some change, but without an environment to support them, their impact is constrained. It is like catching the babies as they come downstream, but it does not address the problem of the babies being thrown into the river.
....Is this type of mixture of non-punitive and punitive approaches required? Does the presence of punitive measures violate the integrity of the restorative process? Is it possible to create an environment that exclusively uses non-punitive measures, but has a process whereby those who continuously violate the norms of the restorative community are moved to a separate system where punitive measures are then employed? Is this a way to more effectively achieve culture change?