I had the privilege to attend a National Conflict Resolution Center event highlighting their Restorative Justice work. We heard from educators, facilitators, and teens who shared their own personal stories of how restorative circles have impacted their lives. It was very inspiring.
Restorative Justice is the practice of bringing everyone together when an offense has taken place. The restorative circle includes the offender, the victim, their families, the bystanders, and others who are involved. The goal is to let everyone be heard, know that their voice matters, take responsibility for the role they played, and work together to repair the harm that was caused by the situation. It is a healing process that allows each participant to view the incident from the perspective of the others in the situation. It has proven to lessen the number of repeat offenders and can deescalate a situation.
Restorative Justice also plays a huge roll in reducing the school to prison pipeline by providing conflict resolution, communication, and relationship building skills while inspiring youth to become leaders in their community. According to the NCRC, "after one stay in juvenile hall, a youth is 40% less likely to graduate from high school and 40% more likely to be in prison by age 25." After only one stay? I am still chewing on that.
We need to believe in kids and their ability to learn from their mistakes when given the proper help and guidance. Society reaps the benefits or pays the price depending on the path we send kids on and the onus is on the adults to help lead them in the right direction. From my experience in teaching child sexual abuse prevention, I see lots of kids that act out because they have never been taught how to communicate the pain they are feeling. They have not been empowered or encouraged to use their voice. They have not been taught about boundaries and consent for themselves or others. It is much easier to label them as bad kids instead of taking the time to learn what is behind the behavior but we all benefit when we do. We can set kids up to fail or to succeed, we have the tools if we choose to use them.
Restorative circles are also used to prevent conflict from getting out of hand by teaching students to take responsibility for their role in creating and solving problems. The framework used in the circles builds trust, respect, and tolerance. In regards to the mass killings and school shooter situations, where the offenders have been students, I believe the use of restorative circles and restorative practices could have helped to prevent the situation. Of course there are other factors that play a role, such as bystander intervention, and state laws (which I am not going to discuss here). Conflict resolution is a skill we all need and the earlier we teach our kids how to respectfully handle differences and conflicts the better. Sadly, we've witnessed the consequences of being too late.
I am very impressed with the work the NCRC is doing in San Diego and nationwide. I hope you check out their website and learn more about the critical work they are doing.