AUJ’s Pilot School Program
The Impact of Richmond model Restorative Justice

Below is information about how the first AUJ school program appears to have impacted the high school where it was implemented. The study described below uses qualitative interviews to identify the benefits and downsides associated with school-based restorative practices from the perspective of both the adults and the students in an urban high school in Virginia where over 90 percent of students are African American and over 75 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

 

Safe School Information from
Virginia Department of Education showed:

  • There were 123 incidents against persons in 2010-2011, the year before the Restorative Justice program began, but only 73 the second year of the program in 2012-2013.

  • There were 67 incidents against staff in 2009-2010 and 21 the second year of the program.

  • The total number of incidents the year before the program began was 583, and the number dropped to 150 the second year of the Armstrong program.

  • There were 406 Individual Student Offenders in 2010-2011 and that number was down to 185, fewer than half as many, in 2012-2013.

 

The reports show that the general trend since the pilot Restorative Justice program ended has been upward.

 

Study from The High School
Pilot Program

The Research Results

The first AUJ Restorative Justice school program was the subject of peer-reviewed research conducted by Lilyana Ortega, Ph.D. at the end of its second year, 2012-2013. Her findings provide an indication of why the number of incidents may have been significantly reduced during the program. As most research on Restorative Justice focuses on the rate of suspensions and expulsions, Ortega chose to study how restorative programming may also impact other important factors, such as the culture or climate of the school, social skills development, and the quality of student-staff relationships.

Interrupting the school to prison pipeline

In Ortega’s research, both students and adults spoke about a shift to less punitive methods of dealing with student conflict. Students discussed that a positive outcome of the RC program was that they were not getting suspended or “locked up.”

Similarly, adults explained that a positive outcome of the RC program was not having to give as many suspensions or detentions. This category speaks to the negative consequences of zero tolerance policies contributing to the “school to prison pipeline.” 

Students seemed very aware of how the (punitive) methods that the school used for dealing with student conflict often resulted in them being suspended or “locked up.”

Students attributed not being suspended or “charged” to the circle process. Similarly, adults stated being less reliant on punitive methods and more willing to talk things out..

Less destructive conflict

Students and adults identified several different themes related to lessening destructive forms of conflict. These included having new skills and tools and utilizing circles. Youth talked about learning to address conflict by talking it out rather than fighting it out. Adults discussed learning about and utilizing new tools because of RC and seeing students utilize new tools for conflicts.

These circles were really geared to get at the bottom of the issue; the underlying pieces, the feelings, the conflict. It’s empowering for kids to be able to solve their own problems [and] wonderful model to help kids see that there is another way to resolve conflict.
— High School Counselor

When adults spoke about the “tools,” they were not necessarily speaking about the circle process but about specific skills from the process, such as using reflection when listening. Adults and students talked about how utilizing Circles was in itself an outcome of the program. Both groups mentioned seeing their peers using Circles more to deal with student conflicts.

Meaningful dialogue: For both students and adults, another positive outcome was meaningful dialogue. Under this category three specific types of benefits emerged understanding and connecting, reducing rumors/boosting and getting to the actual cause of the issue.

[Circles are] a way for people to understand each other so they are not just bickering a whole bunch of words and no one is listening, but they’re actually saying something [to] someone [who] is going to listen, and get to an understanding.
— 11th grade student

Students also enjoyed talking out their conflicts directly with their peers without having an audience observing and instigating. Adults talked about the “no boosting” outcome as not having peer pressure in the Circles. Students are used to a culture of violence that includes their peers instigating fights. Adults talked about how Circles provide students with a space to talk out their conflict with no peers around to “boost” it.

You can get your point across [...] It’s like you and that person and you can go with your mind, and I guess you feel more safe. If you were around a bunch of people [and] say, “Okay let’s leave it alone,” someone else in your crew gonna be like “Oh, you a punk, you just left it alone.” 
— 12th grade student

Students and adults also enjoyed the positive outcome of getting to the actual cause of the issue instead of just fighting back and forth without even knowing why they are fighting.  So the idea of having like a no contact contract, that doesn't make sense.

Stronger Academic Focus

Academically, the students seem more focused. I think it’s about being placed in a role and they’re living up to their role.
— High School Counselor

Academic and social achievements: One benefit that was reported only by adults was seeing a stronger focus on academic and social achievements among students participating in Circles. This category consisted of three themes, maturity in students, better behavior in students, and confidence in students. The numbers in front of each quote correspond to the theme numbers above.

Conclusions and Implications

Zero tolerance approaches have not garnered much research support for reducing conflicts or violence (Evans & Lester, 2010; Evans & Lester, 2012). This study provides support for Richmond Model Restorative Justice as an alternative to zero tolerance and punitive discipline. Importantly, the findings suggest a variety of benefits that previously received little attention in the academic literature.

Read the Research and articles

Details of Ortega’s research are available in an article in Psychology of Violence, 2016, Vol 6, No. 3, 459-468, HERE at https://bit.ly/2PHFof8. Her full dissertation is available HERE at https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/50425. A short, easy-to-read summary of Ortega’s findings by Mikhail Lybansky is HERE at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-the-lines/201605/new-study-reveals-six-benefits-school-restorative-justice.