Restorative Justice in the Schools Program (RJ in the Schools) was started in 2010 partnering with one elementary school district and now has grown to actively serve nearly 25 schools spanning five districts and grades K-12. RJ in the Schools offers professional development training for staff, peer mediation training for students, and practical tools for community building and finding solutions with one another. Time and time again it has been made clear that restorative justice practices strengthen pro-social multi-tiered programs and limits suspensions and expulsions. When practices are used effectively within the classroom and in the front office students, teachers, and administrators all benefit. Restorative justice offers opportunities for prevention (through relationship- and trust-building) and intervention (mediation, circles).
Zero-tolerance policies and a reliance on exclusionary discipline policies in the United States has led to a major push-out of students of color and students with disabilities. The data shows us that as students are suspended and expelled from school they are more likely to come in contact with the juvenile criminal justice system. Studies have shown that individuals that come in contact with juvenile criminal justice are more likely to come in contact with the adult criminal justice system. This phenomenon is now known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Furthermore, the infractions for which the students have been suspended, expelled, or cited are often minor and the consequences ineffective at changing behavior.
When school policies and practices are adapted with fidelity to restorative justice philosophy overtime schools will see restorative justice become a natural part of the school campus environment. Partners can anticipate an increase in campus cohesion, student moral, and feelings of connectedness among staff and students. Administration can anticipate a reduction in escalated campus conflicts, repeat offenses at the school site, a reduction in the number of unnecessary student exclusionary punishments, which can lead to an increase in staff and instructional time. This benefits students, teachers, and administrators by fostering a productive and safe learning environment.