Restorative justice and its effects on (racially disparate) punitive school discipline
Aug 21, 2012
from the paper by David Simpson:
....Finally, I investigated whether the implementation of Restorative Justice significantly reduced racial disproportionality in school discipline vis-à-vis African American students. In particular, I analyzed whether the disparity in black suspension percentage as compared to white suspension percentage—measured by the difference between black suspension percentage and white suspension percentage)—was reduced by a greater amount in schools that implemented Restorative Justice than in those that did not.
I confined my analysis on this point to only those schools that had white as well as black enrollment of over 20 students. I did so because otherwise small fluctuations in total suspension numbers and/or enrollment numbers would have improperly skewed my results.
Once again, the results are positive. Without matching schools across a number of potential control variables, the 13 RJ schools that were part of this subsample reduced their black suspension percentage disparity by about 4.5 percentage points, while non-RJ schools actually increased their disparity by slightly less than 1 percent. Importantly, the difference in these two numbers is highly significant (left-tail p = .02).
....Consequently, there is strong evidence that, at least in the two school districts under investigation in this study, Restorative Justice is helpful in addressing what has been a decade long problem of African American disproportionality in school discipline. It is possible that the process addressed in my theory section is at play. Schools implementing Restorative Justice give their students a chance to tell their story, and give others a chance to hear that story.
To the extent that stereotyping and cultural prejudice drive African American racial disproportionality in school discipline, such disproportionality is likely to be reduced where disciplinary decisionmakers and stereotyped students are encouraged to face each other individually, as equal human beings, rather than in a punitive authority structure that is susceptible to the occurrence of “behavioral leakage.” The statement of a teacher relating his experience with the positive power of Restorative Justice sums it up nicely:
“I was having a bad day. A student was being very disruptive and he wasn’t going to back down. I attacked him with sarcasm and embarrassed him. He got really angry and came at me physically. We went to the dean of students, who asked me: ‘ How many days\ [meaning, ‘How many days of suspension do you want to give him’?
I knew I’d had a part in this; my sarcasm had set the boy off. I said to him: ‘You can have three days of suspension or take part in a [Restorative Justice] circle.’ He chose the circle.
Administrators, counselors, students and teachers attended. He told everyone where he was coming from. Everyone said how they had been affected by the incident. We both apologized. It ended in hugs. The student was never disruptive or missed my class again.”