Back to RJ Archive

Restorative justice: Reconceptualizing school disciplinary theory and practice.

Hamilton, Michele Villarreal
June 4, 2015

Source: (2008) Dissertation submitted for degree of Doctor of Education. University of the Pacific. Stockton, California

The threat of school violence plagues high school campuses nationwide. To thwart violent student behavior and create a safe school environment, schools often utilize punitive disciplinary practices. These practices, often referred to as zero-tolerance policies, essentially transform schools into law enforcement models focused on punishment and the exclusion of students from the educational setting. Conversely, restorative justice practices, specifically Circles, provide students with an opportunity to resolve conflicts through dialoguing, problem-solving, building relationships and reflecting on thier behavior. Used in conjunction with traditional disciplinary practices, Circles can provide schools with an additional tool to teach appropriate behavior. Currently, there is limited research examining the impact of the Circle process on student behavior and school climate relative to student discipline. The purpose of this study was to examine the use of restorative justice practices, specifically Circles to address behavioral infractions among high school students. The findings of this study add to the current literature surrounding school disciplinary theory and practice and provide school administrators with another option for addressing student behavior. A qualitative case study approach was utilized to examine the impact of Circles at one high school. Thirteen participants were interviewed during a week long visit to West Valley High School (identified by pseudonym). Interviews responses were transcribed, analyzed and coded into themes representing the experiences of the participants in the Circle process. The data for this study revealed the following research findings: (a) the school employed a restorative approach to discipline which included the use of Circles as a compliment to traditional disciplinary procedures, (b) the Circle process at WVHS led to the elimination of further behavioral infractions among Circle participants, (c) the Circle process provided students with increased opportunities for conflict resolution and learning, (d) the Circle process provided a forum for students’ to discuss personal issues unrelated to the original conflict, and (e) the Circle process had a positive impact on student behavior and the participants’ perception of school climate relative to student discipline. (Author’s abstract)


Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now