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Restorative justice workshop report

January 10, 2010

This process is used in some of our Edmonton Public Schools as a way to address the root causes of distuptive behaviour, teach responsibility to those involved and unite a group of people to hold those involved accountable. The Principal is often one of the participants in the circle, but not the sole authority on deciding the resolution. For more information on how this can be effective in schools, you may want to check out this book: “The little book of Restorative Discipline for Schools. Teaching responsibility; creating caring climates.” By Lorainne Stutzman Amstutz and Judy H. Mullet.

At the workshop, we heard from one EPSB Principal who had completely changed the culture of a high-needs school in Edmonton through adopting a restorative practice, first for herself and then by bringing other staff literally into the circle as incidents occured. After two years of consistently using this approach, suspensions and expulsions were dramatically reduced, feelings of safety from both staff and students had increased, referrals to the office were dramatically reduced, student achievement was dramatically improved, parent involvement at the school increased and collaborative work with community partners was successfully embraced. Behaviours that had been chronic suddenly stopped after using restorative circles. The Principal feels that this happened because the root of the problems were revealed, understood and dealt with. Empathy was created, connections were built and people were united in resolving the problem, rather than being locked into a pattern or camp. In Australia, where they have been using restorative justice for a while, studies show that in reduces recidivism by 40%.

It’s hard to argue with the positive impacts of this approach and it makes me wonder why it isn’t universally adopted. What traps us in the desire for punishment and vengeance? Why do many people see it as necessary to inflict more harm, in order to fix harm?  There is a notion, mostly from people who have little understanding of restorative justice practices, or who have never experienced it themselves, that this is the “easy way out” for offenders and that we’re letting them “get away with something.” The fear is that if they get off easily, they won’t have learned their lesson and they will just do it again.

Watching videos and hearing stories about this process for three days and experiencing it myself in a couple of role plays (once I played the offender, once I played the angry victim)… I can tell you, this is anything BUT easy.  Even in a simple roleplay, I felt my heart racing. The pressure in the circle is incredible and you cannot squirm out of it. As much as you might try to put up a brave front, you cannot help but be affected. I felt remorse, I cried, I felt compassion. (and this was just “pretend” !!)

…The things that I took away from this:


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