Implementing Restorative Practices In Schools
In a traditional approach to school discipline, the enquiry is one of blame and punishment. This retributive approach, initially described as a ‘quick fix’, does not provide significant evidence that this tactic leads to the required change of behaviour (Blum, McNeeley & Rinehart, 2002).
A restorative approach, on the other hand, is focused on helping to realize the impact of someone’s action and repairing the harm. It encompasses understanding that the harm has been done and work with those involved to help them take responsibility for their actions and to learn from what happened and come up with a mutually agreed way forward. Zehr (2002) advises that working with those who have offended, using the Social Control Window (Wachtel, 1999), provides more positive outcomes for all involved and young offenders are encouraged to make amends and in effect, change their offending behaviour permanently. It is worth noting that restorative approaches also work with those participants coming from poorer backgrounds and where criminal activity in the family takes place on a regular basis. In her ground-breaking work on evaluating the values and behaviour of students and families who live in poverty, Payne (2009) proves that the chance is possible for everyone, regardless of their background or financial status. She emphasizes the importance of teaching how to behave while in school, even if it is different from how they behave in the outside world.
In April 2019, Essex Restorative and Mediation Service (ERMS) was contacted by Wilkin & Sons, a world-famous jam factory, after Essex Police had visited the factory to offer crime prevention advice, following concerns the company had raised regarding criminal and antisocial behaviour that had been taking place. Greenhouses and crops had been damaged and there were concerns that youngsters entering the premises may injure themselves as well as damaging the property and assets of the business.
The local secondary school agreed to take part in the process and ERMS delivered workshops to more than 200 Year 10 students over the course of two days.
The pupils learnt how Restorative Justice works, and how it can be put into practice; they took part in Conflict Resolution skills training and Victim Awareness course. They were also taught the importance of good relations between Wilkin & Sons, it’s Tiptree jam factory, and the local community., They also visited the factory for a tour and met with Children’s and Young Persons Officers from Colchester’s Community Policing Team.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Bringing people together in this way to develop understanding is just one of the great ways that restorative justice can make a difference to the lives of both people in local communities and local businesses. Cracking down on anti-social behaviour is one of the priorities in our Police and Crime Plan and this project has helped to educate and hopefully prevent ASB incidents from happening in the future.”
Since the RJ intervention, Wilkin & Sons has reported no further antisocial behaviour incidents at the factory premises, demonstrating a better relationship between the factory and the local community, and resulting in fewer calls to the Police, in effect reducing their workload.
Although restorative approaches have been successfully implemented in almost every field in everyday life, it is important to discuss some of the ethical considerations which arise from inappropriate use of restorative justice.
Critics of restorative interventions have argued that it is a ‘soft option’. There is really no comparison between a restorative meeting in which an offender takes full, direct and personal responsibility for their actions, and a formal court hearing at which they may be present but are barely involved. In fact, a number of wrongdoers who were offered restorative justice have been known to opt for traditional court action and its consequences because, of the two options, it is the court which they view as softer. It is also important to remember that a restorative meeting can take place once the sentence has been handed down, which automatically rules out the option of restorative justice as a ‘jail free’ card.
Another ethical consideration about using restorative work is, according to common criticism, a failure to respect participants’ human rights. Obviously, there are risks with restorative interventions around issues such as the right to a defence and potential risk of re-victimisation of the victims. Human rights moreover lie at the very heart of restorative justice and such potential pitfalls are not an argument not to facilitate a meeting which is run because of a victim’s preference to meet the person which caused them harm on the base of voluntary participation and informed consent. Additionally, equally important is the training which facilitators receive. Each practitioner is trained to the highest standard about the importance of impartiality, critical listening, empathy, reading non-verbal communication and managing difficult emotions.
Restorative Justice, although it has a long history, is still being considered as a relatively young discipline in the Criminal Justice system, but a growing amount of evidence (Blum et al., 2002; Payne, 2009) suggests that restorative approaches are becoming a powerful tool to address offending behaviour in young members of the community. Restorative approaches have got a power to shape young minds who can then make better choices relating not only to criminal activities but also their attitude towards other lifestyle choices, such as use of drugs & alcohol and sexual behaviour. Implementing restorative approaches in schools leads to a reduction in offending behaviour in the classroom and among peers. Although restorative justice is getting more popular when addressing youth delinquency, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to help shape young offenders’ minds with regard to negative behaviour, to antisocial behaviour, especially when such behaviour is a response to other underlying issues such as poverty, abuse, county lines or a family’s financial struggles.
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