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Is Lady Justice (color) blind? Zero tolerance, restorative practices and the rights of minority youth in school.

Schiff, Mara F.
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) Paper presented at the 1st International Symposium on Restorative Justice and Human Rights. 2-7 June 2012, Skopelos Island, Greece.

There is considerable evidence that punitive zero tolerance disciplinary policies in schools result in the
overuse of suspension, expulsion and disciplinary referrals for school-based youth. The impacts of such
policies are disproportionately felt among minority students, resulting in what is being called the “schoolto-prison pipeline” in the U.S. and elsewhere. Moreover, recent research suggests that the offenses for
which minority youth are typically penalized are considerably more “subjective” than the violations
recorded for their white peers. This disproportionate use of harsh disciplinary sanctions for minority youth
violates the educational, social and civil rights of young people, ostensibly to promote “safer” schools and
correspondingly higher academic achievement. As an alternative disciplinary response, restorative justice
approaches in schools are designed to encourage youth to accept accountability for their actions, make
amends to those harmed and, ultimately, to successfully stay in school. Such approaches are gaining
considerable attention as a “best practice” for reducing suspension, expulsion, disciplinary referrals and
subsequent school-related arrests (Morrison et al, 2005; Stinchcomb et al, 2006).
This paper addresses how harsh, punitive and non-restorative discipline marginalizes and criminalizes the
behavior of minority youth and how the use of restorative practices can promote far fairer, more just and
inclusive outcomes. The paper will first review the use and impacts of zero tolerance and other punitive
disciplinary sanctions on minority youth. It will then examine the use of restorative justice as an inclusive
alternative strategy with the promise of preserving individual and collective student rights. (author’s abstract)


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