Posts Tagged Restorative justice

Juvenile Justice and Restorative Conferencing

On The Law Matters with Municipal Judge David Bazar and Deb Morais, Julia discusses YRP’s Restorative Conferencing program in Rhode Island schools, and how this approach could bring new resources to the State’s juvenile justice system. We all agree that the focus of the justice system should be on “rehabilitation”, especially for young offenders. But that means digging into the family and community context of anti-social behavior – something our current system isn’t equipped to do.

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Chronically Misbehaving Kids Suffer Mental and Social Disease

Published by EducationNews.org — Sometimes these students get a chance to  shake off the ‘bad kid’ self-image.  Too often not.

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Naturally, Faina Davis, a lawyer and head of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), would have a happy-ish story about what happens when troubled kids connect with adults who practice Restorative Justice.  Far more often, kids misbehave, get punished, misbehave, get punished, in an endlessly destructive cycle.  But Restoration works to interrupt this cycle by solving whatever was driving the misbehavior in the first place.

An 11th grader, whom Davis calls Cameron, transferred into a Restorative Oakland high school.  He’d already become, as she put it, one of those “scary-dude kids” with saggy pants, a black hoodie and a horrible attitude.  Such charmers come to her through the Oakland’s schools, which have become demonstration sites for restorative justice.

On his first day at the new school, Cameron met with the school’s Director.  Cameron probably expected, per usual, to get yelled at, berated, and threatened with dire consequences for any more misdeeds.  Instead, this Restorative Director put aside the thick folder of records of Cameron’s academic failures, suspensions and arrests.  Start fresh.  Cameron couldn’t suddenly become an angel.  But together he and the Director would deal with the obstacles in the way of building a brighter, healthier path for this angry adolescent.

Happy ending: a kid who never cut a break finally got one.  Someone intervened in Cameron’s history of failure to pull him off the school-to-prison assembly line.  Cue sunset.

But Cameron was already a hot mess. 

It would be so simple, so straightforward if we knew that “scary-dude” kids were just born that way and not cultivated by circumstances to become a defensive, aggressive pre-prisoner.  Davis only gives us a taste of Cameron’s circumstances.

He was first suspended at the ripe old age of four.  To retrieve his own confiscated candy, he’d snuck out of the pre-school building and crawled back in through a window.  You might think a four-day suspension was serious overkill given his age and crime.  But more importantly, the suspension wasn’t going to get to any root of a problem.  Nor did it.

By 11th grade Cameron had racked up 150 school suspensions and lots of arrests.  His first arrest was for causing a middle-school milk fight in the cafeteria.  Yes, a milk fight in a large public school can escalate to such mayhem as to be dangerous.  Still.  Chronic misbehavior is the equivalent of a kid waving his arms and screaming:  “Help me!  I’m in trouble.  My family’s in trouble.” But no, he’s just punished.  Research would argue that Cameron’s suspension record strongly predicted his arrest record.  He was on a hamster wheel of recidivism.  Not until that Oakland Director did it slow down.

But what took so long?  Clearly his family had little capacity to support him.  Does he have PTSD from surviving as a kid in harsh, poverty-steeped background?  What’s been the price so far?  Can his “bad kid” self-image be repaired?  Whatever the answers, the kid has already paid a steep price.

Public systems allow kids’ troubles to fester way, way too long.

Since pre-school Cameron was a neon sign of trouble.  But schools, justice, and social services only wake up when such a kid has crossed a legal line, stolen a car, robbed a Quickie Mart or dealt drugs.  Schools only take notice when the kid is so disruptive as to be sent to “an alternative program,” segregated with the other bad kids “whose needs are better served elsewhere.”  Having crossed the line, the bad kid’s fate is sealed — end of story.  We blame the kid.

Increasingly other countries are using Family Group Conferencing to help kids like Cameron.  A facilitator brings all relevant parties to the table to figure out how to solve any and all issues that will reduce or eliminate recidivism.  Over time, countries like Australia, New Zealand, among many others, get once-siloed agencies — housing, mental health, police — to act as a team.  Currently a kid and her family will touch many agencies without any of them knowing what the other is doing — very ineffective and wasteful.  Also, Americans are more squirrely than most about breaching the family’s privacy.  The presenting issue is the kid, but she’s not growing up in isolation.  We can’t solve poverty, but we can help all families become healthier and more resilient in the face of poverty or other adversity.  Allowing family dysfunction to fester is a crime itself.  Breaching the sanctity of the home for less than criminal reasons may be an American sacrilege, but not doing so is no favor to the kids.

Suspensions and juvenile arrests are symptoms.  Chronic recidivism is a full-blown social disease.  Recidivism of any negative behavior is a huge, waving red flag.  Davis and RJOY work on the Oakland schools so they aren’t making things worse.  It’s not schools’ fault that things have already gotten as bad as they are.  But right now there isn’t a social-service system the public can hold responsible for letting kids languish.  There should be.

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.  Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant.  After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.  Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI Department of Education and the RIDataHUBFor more, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@youthrestorationproject.org. The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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College Campus Discipline That Works

Published by EducationNews.org — Revenge may be satisfying, but it rarely leads to positive change.

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Here’s a clear, real-life illustration of the use of Restorative Justice (RJ).  Skidmore professor David Karp tells the story of how the college handled two virtually identical incidents before and after the implementation of a RJ campus discipline system.  Karp literally wrote the book on College Campus Restorative Justice initiatives.  He’s a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, where I heard this story.

Both incidents involved young men who were very drunk.  In their stupor, each had lost the key to their dorms.  Each had the genius idea of getting back into the dorm by climbing through a first-floor window.  Each had the ill luck to choose the single room of a female student.  Each scared the bejeezus out of that young woman.

CASE #1:  The young woman complained, rightly, to the campus Disciplinary Board.  When she met with the Board, she gave her testimony and left.  Separately, the young man also met with them.  The Board imposed a set of sanctions on him as a condition of staying on campus.  Key was that he was to have no contact with the girl.

Separating a wrong-doer from the victim seems to make good sense.  Don’t subject the victim to further exposure with the guy who hurt, or in this case, scared her.  But the girl remained fearful.  Could it happen again?  Had he targeted her?  Was he still a threat to her or anyone else?  Surely you’ve had the experience of letting your mind go wild with negative possibilities when you don’t know anything about the random person who did you wrong.  I was once robbed and remained frightened for months afterwards, not knowing exactly what threat to us was lurking out there.  The unknown can be terrifying.

So, though sanctions had been imposed, they didn’t stop the feelings involved.  In this case, the offender became resentful of the girl for getting him into such trouble.  Yes, he made a bad mistake, but he felt more harshly punished than he deserved.  And as happens on gossipy college campuses, she found out that he was angry, provoking yet more feelings — more fear, defensiveness, anger.  Then he heard that she knew he was angry, which just made him madder.  As Karp says, “worst case scenario.”  The tensions grew with no mechanism for resolution.  Full-on kicking him out would have been too severe, so they were stuck.  Ultimately the Board’s decisions didn’t do anyone much good.

CASE #2:  The basic facts are the same, though a bit more serious because the female student was just getting out of the shower.  She screams.  He screams.  They’re both terrified.  He pushes past her, so there was some physical contact.

When she filed her complaint, she was offered the Restorative option, which was new to Skidmore at the time.  She could either take him before the Discipline Board per usual, or both of them would go to “conference,” which is to say a supervised, facilitated conversation.  RJ options are always voluntary.  First and foremost, the victim chooses.  And if the offender refuses to participate, the matter goes the traditional route.  A trained facilitator talks to each party separately about what to expect and what they would want out of the face-to-face meeting.

The young woman came with three specifics she wanted to discuss:

1.  She wanted him to understand her fear.  Her terror was not an abreaction.  A naked woman, alone and confronted by a male intruder, fears many things, not the least of which is rape.  So they talked about rape.   And that led to the two of them considering how they could work together to help others understand the ugliness of rape itself and the fear of it.

2.  Why was he so drunk?  What is it about college that excessive drinking is the entree into most social circles?  Was it even possible to organize an alcohol-free social event that would actually be attractive to Skidmore students?  He agreed to work on arranging one as part of his reparations to her.

3.  Why is it so easy to climb in a first-floor window?  This good question was not for the boy, but for the college itself.  As a result of this particular conference, Skidmore literally changed the first-floor windows.

In other words, the RJ process opened up important conversations, all of which had ramifications beyond the two students.  They were no longer strangers.  And they weren’t potential enemies either.  The icing on the cake was that the incident generated ideas and actions aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.

The traditional kick-out system focuses on the establishment of guilt or innocence and punishing the guilty.  Restoration examines the context in which the offense took place and works to heal both the parties involved — and to change that context, when needed.

Revenge can be very satisfying.  But it rarely teaches anything positive.  Vengeance against the many drunk college men who’ve behaved very badly over the years hasn’t done a thing to prevent more drunken young men from doing the same.

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.  Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant.  After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.  Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI school department and the RIDataHUBFor more, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@youthrestorationproject.org. The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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At Last! A Review of Research on Restorative Justice In Schools

Published by EducationNews.org — Early studies of RJ programs in the US show their impact in reducing suspensions and harmful behavior.

restorative_jusitce

Local Restorative Practices/Restorative Justice (RP/RJ) initiatives have been starving for research on America’s efforts to implement programs.  The large body of evidence showing the ineffectiveness of punishment doesn’t seem to make an adequately compelling argument for supporting Restoration.  And international research, while positive, has limited utility because each country’s educational system is somewhat different from each other’s, making comparisons hard.

So I’m relieved that the Robert Wood Johnston Foundation published a review of the existing literature this past February.  Restorative Justice in Schools: A Research Review concludes that overall, Restorative Justice (RJ) has been showing promising results.  “Teachers who implemented RJ frequently had better relationships with their students. The students felt respected by their teachers, and teachers generally issued fewer referrals.”  Those of us in the field have known this for some time.  Now we can say so with some clout, although the authors concede that this research is still “in its infancy.”

What is Restorative Justice in Schools?

There is no standardized definition of RJ, so the heavily-footnoted report turns to The National Centre for Restorative Approaches in Youth Settings.  They define it as “an innovative approach to offending and inappropriate behavior which puts repairing harm done to relationships and people over and above the need for assigning blame and dispensing punishment. A restorative approach in a school shifts the emphasis from managing behavior to focusing on the building, nurturing and repairing of relationships.”

In other words, RJ gets away from a myopic focus on guilt or innocence and works on reknitting relationships and community.

A summary of the obstacles to implementing RJ in schools:

The report states, “RJ requires staff time and buy-in, training, and resources that traditional sanctions such as suspension do not impose on the school. With RJ, teachers are often required to perform duties traditionally outside of their job description, such as attending RJ trainings, conducting circles during instruction time, and spending more time one-on-one talking with students. Some educators and other stakeholders are resistant to RJ because it is sometimes perceived as being “too soft” on student offenses. Finally, while RJ programs will certainly vary by the size of the school and scope of the program, some researchers suggest that a shift in attitudes toward punishment may take one to three years, and the deep shift to a restorative-oriented school climate might take up to three to five years.”

The critical issue of racial disparities

Punitive sanctions have the toxic effect of driving students — particularly minority and poor students — out of school altogether.  Furthermore, research shows significant disparities in exclusionary punishment for racial minorities and students with disabilities. “For example, minority students are suspended three times more than White students… A study from one Texas district that found African American students were 26.2% more likely to receive out-of-school suspension for their first offense than White students. Students who are suspended, all things being equal, are more at risk for poor attendance, inability to progress to the next grade, failure to graduate, and subsequent involvement in the juvenile and adult justice systems.”

The disparities might be the result of the growing use of law-enforcement methods “(e.g., armed police or security forces patrolling the grounds, metal detectors, security cameras, locker searches)… These procedures have led to students perceiving that their schools are like prisons and that they are viewed as criminals committing crimes, especially as they are designated as ‘suspects’ and ‘under investigation.’”

A few images of RP/RJ’s impact

RP/RJ has been most successful where the programs have stood the test of time, grown and become sustainable — such as some in California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.  But RJ programs or models can be successful whether implemented in public, private, or alternative schools, in urban or suburban environments, in one school or every school in a district.

“All the empirical studies we reviewed report a decrease in exclusionary discipline and harmful behavior (e.g., violence) after implementing some type of RJ program.

For example, (one researcher) reports an 84% drop in out-of-school suspensions among sixth graders in one Texas school during the first year RJ was introduced, and a 19% drop in all suspensions… Denver schools that implemented restorative circles and conferencing report a 44% reduction in out-of-school suspensions. They also report an overall decrease in expulsions across the three-year post-implementation period.  In Oakland, Cole Middle School experienced an 87% drop in suspensions across the first two years of implementation compared to the prior three years; expulsions were eliminated entirely after RJ was put in place. More recent figures from Oakland suggest continued success, with a 74% drop in suspensions and a 77% decrease in referrals for violence during a two-year follow up.”

Not too shabby.  The report notes that other large-scale research is taking place now and that more hard data will be available within the foreseeable future.  In the meantime, for those looking for an “evidence-base,” the gold standard for getting grants and credibility, this worthy report is a welcome, if early, addition.

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Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.  Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant.  After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.  Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI Department of Education and the RIDataHUBFor more, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@youthrestorationproject.org. The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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Communities Create Their Own Safety; Police Only Help

Published by EducationNews.org — We can fall into the habit of thinking the responsibility for certain problems belongs to someone else.

police

David Karp, who directs Skidmore College’s Project on Restorative Justice, tells this story:  Some time ago, a student, whom we’ll call Sarah, came to class one day visibly upset.  She’d been “harmed,” in the language of Restorative Justice (RJ), so her plight was appropriate for discussion in a criminal justice class.

Apparently she had been hanging with friends near their off-campus apartment when they looked up and saw a guy staring at them.  They noted that he was creepy, but whatever.  They dispersed.  That night Sarah and her housemates went to bed, but she heard noises in the living room.  She peeked to see what was going on and saw the same guy.  Freaked, she hid.  The guy left the house.  Sarah rallied her housemates, all of whom found another place to go that night.  The lock on a door had been broken, so the creep had just slipped in – and could again.

That was Sunday.  Monday was class.  She was totally rattled.  Her fellow students wanted blood, as is typical.  They wanted the cops to come and stake the place out so they could capture the guy and throw him into jail.

Problem solved.

Well, not so fast.  Yes, the police should certainly be alerted.  They should get a description of what is so far only a sketchy guy, and agree to keep an eye out for him and on that neighborhood.  They would urge getting the lock fixed.

But the police aren’t going to expend resources on a stakeout, a crime scene with finger-printing, an APB and the rest of what college TV-watchers think cops should do to protect fellow students.  The good professor’s burning question was:  Sarah felt violated, so what did she need right now?  How might Restorative Justice approach this situation?

Police do not make communities safe; communities make themselves safe. 

Communities set standards for behavior designed to help each individual feel safe.  The police are an extension of the community’s public safety efforts, but not a replacement for them — just as doctors support health, but are not replacements for healthy eating and exercise.  The rise of professional services has reduced the need to care for ourselves and one another.  So individuals fall into the habit of thinking that the responsibility for certain problems belongs to someone else.

In the Restorative Justice world, the community itself is the frontline of handing conflict and harm.  Yes, professional police do the heavy lifting of controlling uncontrollable behavior.  But safety is a product of building trust with one another.  Crime statistics notwithstanding, safety is a feeling.  These days, crime stats are down, but people still report feeling unsafe.  So without dumping the responsibility on the police, Karp asked, how can we help Sarah feel safe?

The class had to stop a moment to think.  That’s a way different problem than the one posed by our TV-infused faith in “trail ‘em, nail ‘em, jail em.”

One young man said he knew how to fix a lock and would do it after class.

Another student’s mother was a lawyer and knew about leases.  He could solicit his mom’s help getting the girl and her roommates out of that lease so they could get another place.

A third suggested all give Sarah their cell phone numbers so she can always reach out and get someone to be with her if she’s not feeling safe at home.

Sarah felt enormously supported.

So right there, in the midst of a class discussion, the offender’s side of the equation ceased to be the issue among the students.  Normally, in the current justice system, it’s the State versus Whomever.  But where’s the victim?  Who’s important here?  In traditional justice, victims have no voice in the proceedings, nor does anyone fuss about their need to heal.  But crime is a broken relationship between the victim and the offender.  And that rupture in turn rocks the trust of the community.

Karp says, “Even if there is a discussion about reparations (to victims), we don’t talk about rebuilding trust.  We build trust and community by allowing each member a voice in the process.”

Sarah came away from that class feeling far safer and more cared about personally than if the cops vowed some harsh action.  Cops would not have wrapped her warmly in their community embrace and brought their own personal resources to her aid.  This is no knock on cops; it’s just not what they do.  Sarah got super lucky that she was in that she was in a class that morning that wanted to be a community she could trust.  Individuals and communities would be better off caring for one another more intimately and using the professionals only when necessary.  We’d all feel safer if Sarah’s “luck” were more common.

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Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.  Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant.  After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.  Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI Department of Education and the RIDataHUBFor more, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@youthrestorationproject.org. The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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Drugs, Drop-outs and Restorative Justice Conferencing

Published by EducationNews.org — When a student knows what she wants, it’s a lot easier to help her get through trouble.

flight_attendent

The lovely Roxanna, as we’ll call her, sighed heavily as she joined a circle that included a school administrator, two conference facilitators and her very pissed-off dad.  The teacher who had promised to make it could not.  Roxanna agreed to participate in a restorative-justice conference for drug possession, hoping to resolve the matter by making reparations rather than risk more traditional consequences in which she’ll have little or no say.

Simultaneously sheepish and defiant – common behavior in these conferences – she assured the group that she wasn’t high.  She’d just forgotten that she had a little stash.  Her purse spilled, and an adult saw it.  But she wasn’t stoned or acting weird.  So it wasn’t a big a deal.  She’s hardly the only one who smokes weed occasionally.  Besides, she says, she’s changed.  She has ambitions, so she needs her diploma.

Everyone else at the table thinks it’s a big deal.  Her father certainly didn’t struggle to bring his family from their homeland for the kind of nonsense his kid is dishing out.  To him, this is very personal, very upsetting.

This conferencing program helps divert students from getting caught up in “the system” – meaning Truancy Court, Family Court and the judicial system.  Actually, as the objections to marijuana have relaxed over the years, Rhode Island and other states have made possession of small amounts a matter of relatively minor fines.  Drugs are still illegal for anyone under 18, but Roxanna is over 18.  The police could only issue a ticket for a fine that no one wants to make this dad pay.

The conference is Roxanna’s second chance at a second chance.

While the cops aren’t much of a problem, Roxanna risks losing the opportunity to get her high school diploma. She’s in a special program for students who are “over-aged and under-credited” — meaning that they blew off a significant portion of high school.  She had already dropped out once and now she’s back.  But given her age and drug-involvement, the program has no obligation to keep her.  Everyone at the table hopes she’ll take advantage of this unusual conferencing opportunity to salvage her situation.

The lead facilitator goes over the simple rules – take turns, speak for yourself, no accusatory statements, things like that.  The victims speak first, so the administrator, representing the community, talks with frustration about what a plague drugs in school have become.  Doing drugs out of school is bad enough, but in school drugs wreck learning both for the addled and the students around them.

Roxanna shrugs; she’s not convinced. She reiterates that she wasn’t high.  The adults cringe.

Then the dad tearfully explains how hurt he feels.  He and her siblings love her, but they are ashamed.  Roxanna rolls her eyes.  He’s had to take part of the day off work, which he’ll have to make up.  Mom’s apparently not in the picture.  He seems exhausted.

Roxanna says she’s sorry already, wishing everyone would just chill.  The facilitators shift to the reparations phase, when the group tries to hammer out an agreement.  Assuming she’s remorseful, which seems doubtful at this point, and that she completes the agreement, the slate will be wiped clean with no further repercussions.  Per protocol, the facilitators begin by asking her what she hopes for after high school, what she wants to do for a career.

“I want to be a stewardess.” 

Oka-ay.  Kids who just shrug when asked what they want are far harder to help.  A kid’s dream is like building materials for facilitators; you can work with them.  One facilitator opens a laptop and searches “requirements for becoming a stewardess.”  Humph.  He scans it, reading out loud – you need a high-school diploma or GED…  no visible tattoos.  Ooooo, mandatory drug testing is a condition of hiring for most airlines.  Random drug testing thereafter.  Stewardesses need to be drug-free.

That totally got her attention.  The conference went silent as she digested the information.  Her defensiveness softened.  Her voice was apologetic.  “I really do want to be a stewardess.”  All right, then, what would make this right?  Suddenly becoming a problem-solver, she suggested reparations – three sessions of drug counseling, an essay on the effects of drugs that she would proofread carefully, and the promise to be scrupulously on time to her classes every day.  Writing this agreement was quick; everyone signed.  Dad looked like he could finally sleep at night.  Very gratifying.

Roxanna did finish what she promised to do, and she did it well before the agreement’s deadline.  And she received her diploma in a cap and gown during a mid-year ceremony.  Getting kicked out of the program would have been painful, but not nearly as memorably upsetting as sitting with family and supporters to give an account of her foolish behavior and take responsibility for it.  Without the conference, Roxanna’s misbehavior could have ended her dream.  But I’ll bet she’s a stewardess now.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Dominic Barter: Respect Means to Look Again

Published by EducationNews.org — We live in a super-aggressive world.  Those who want peace must be able to walk towards the conflict.

dominic_barter

I have hated the word “respect.”  What does it mean?  It grates constantly as it’s overused in political discourse, the media, discipline conversations and among co-workers.  Especially annoying are those posters in school hallways demanding “Respect,” either by itself or along with other abstract nouns like “responsibility.”  Is the mandate only directed at kids?  If so, who teaches what it means and how to do it?

So if the word came up, I would often stop to ask what it meant to the speaker.  Kids say they were “disrespected” to explain why they mouthed off at a teacher, walked out of class or otherwise disrupted.  They were triggered into misbehaving, to be sure, but by what, exactly?  Adults are little better, complaining about lack of respect from students, co-workers, bosses and underlings.  When I ask kids or adults what “respect” means, the first look I get says, “What a stupid question.”  Then the look morphs into mild confusion because they don’t have an answer.  What, I pursue, might respect look like or feel like?  The answer might get me closer to the true nature of the complaint, but not to a definition.

Recently, Dominic Barter solved my problem.  “Respect,” he says, means to look twice. “Re” means that something will happen again or will return.  “Spect” means to see.  “Spectator” and “spectacular” also come from the Latin spectare which means to see, view, watch or behold.

Respect means to look again.

For decades, Barter worked in the shanty towns or favellas of Brazil learning how to ease the violence.  In effect, he engaged many people in a protocol for his own Truth and Reconciliation effort, much like the South African Commission.  First he’d find safe ways to get everyone’s truth on the table, however hideous or enraged.  Then, with everyone having been heard, the group would work on how to live together in peace henceforth.

Barter’s story began with his inability to give up on helping those neighborhoods which were the murder capital of the world.  Others certainly had.  He asked officials and locals what he could do and was told by all that he could do nothing.  People living in the favellas themselves considered the situation hopeless.

So he listened, mainly to the kids hanging around the streets, but also to whomever wanted to talk.  And in this way he figured out his own version of Restorative Justice. The concepts of Truth and Reconciliation help explain the two-step process of looking.

The first look sees the obvious. 

“When we listen respectfully, we see everything that distinguishes us from the other person.  We see the gender, ethnicity, social class, where you live, how you behave.  We see the crimes, or I tell myself, perhaps, about the crimes you have committed.”

He goes on to say, “But when we listen respectfully, I listen again without denying anything I’ve seen the first time.  But I listen with a question.  Is there also shared humanity?  Is there something that we have in common?  Is there something that connects us?  I’m not defining who you are by what my thoughts tell me.”

So “respect” includes the ability to talk with people who may have done quite horrific things.  More commonly it’s the ability to walk towards the conflict with those who have offended, angered or shamed us, for whatever reason.  And in their presence and in full recognition of what they’ve done, or what we think they’ve done, to ask more questions.  To listen carefully.  To see if there isn’t some commonality that makes it possible to let the conflict be just a conflict, not a fight.  There’s no room in a fight to allow for either truth or reconciliation.

We live in a super-aggressive world, bullied by prejudice, social-media slander and viciousness resulting from easily-taken offense.  Anyone who wants peace needs to look again.  I no longer need to be annoyed by the word “respect” because I know now just to go back to the moment and look again.

Because, as Barter says, “We behave differently according to what we see.”

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Can Schools Teach What Kids Don’t Learn At Home?

Published by EducationNews.org — Kids are often switching between two different value systems — the middle-class values of school and whatever their culture is at home.

teacher

Back in the early 1990s, Margaret Thorsborne was among the original group of Australians exploring restorative justice and its applications.  Eminent criminologist John Braithwaite was among them.  At this point, her international experience in workplaces, communities and schools has made her something of a rock star in the field, so she gave the keynote at the recent Skidmore College Restorative Practices Symposium.

She started as a high school biology teacher in a school on the east coast of Australia.  Then, as she put it in her charming Aussie way, she “went sideways” into school counseling.  It was there, in the course of honing counseling skills, that she discovered “the Restoration stuff.  It grabbed me by the throat.”

She began her address with an adaptation of a John Herner quote:

If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we… punish?

It is completely weird when you think about it.

Both parents and teachers teach their children how to do things by having kids repeat and practice what they’re trying to learn.  Thorsborne says that somehow it has gotten into our DNA that that when it comes to behavior, having a child suffer will be the deterrent to future misdeeds.  “I’ve discovered that schools are the same all over the world.  There’s always the worry that if kids don’t experience consequences, the sky will fall.”

Rules are “dreadfully important,” of course. 

But breaking a rule is not like getting a math problem wrong, because broken social rules have an adverse effect on the people around the child, on the classroom, friends or family.  But social rules aren’t universal.  Each neighborhood, faith-based community and family develops a culture with values from which rules emerge.

And that’s the rub for schools, according to Thorsborne: those cultures vary enormously.  In fact, more often than not, modern kids are switching between two radically different value systems — the distinctly middle-class values of school and whatever the culture is at home.  “Kids aren’t lining up for anything at home.”  Similarly, they aren’t sitting still for longer than 20 minutes.  Adolescents who swear a blue streak likely live in a home or among friends where such language is normal.  A kid’s non-school world has a wealth of norms, which they learn by imitation.  The chasm between the expectations of home and school can be huge.

Schools, on the other hand, are very articulate about their rules and consequences, setting them forth in lengthy handbooks, as if that settles the matter.  Posters that adorn hallways and classrooms trumpet values that are usually about “respect, responsibility and achievement.”  But, Thorsborne says, “a value is of no value to anyone unless you can see its value in others’ behavior.  They need to see the value in the adult behavior.  You can’t expect to see a behavior you haven’t taught.”

“This business is really about relationship management.”

Relationships shape kids’ values.  “Kids can’t do things right because we said it once or they read our minds.  They need focused repetition,” guided by caring adults, “to understand how to behave appropriately according to their social context.”

Thorsborne suggests that an effective way of shaping school-appropriate behavior is to bring the parents in and brainstorm with them about responding to behavior issues.  If their child has been bullied, teased or pushed, what would they like to happen?  Often those answers are harsh.  Okay, but what if their child is the person doing the harm, as the thief, instigator or aggressor?  Suddenly the adults want understanding, empathy, and a stronger emphasis on getting to the motivation for unwanted behavior.  No one wants their own child humiliated, ostracized, or hurt.  They want compassionate responses — unless the offender is someone else’s kid.

What matters most to kids is that they have a sense of belonging and that people care about them.  Thornsborne says, “A wee chat with the kid will probably nudge the child back on the path of righteousness.  But not if the kid doesn’t care about you.”  Probably the biggest problem with punishment is how deeply it alienates and shuts children down at home as well as at school.

As such — and I thought this was brilliant — she urges that we quit thinking about “behavior systems,” and think instead about “relationship systems.”  A narrow focus on an individual kid’s behavior essentially blames the kid and leaves out all other factors and people.  Unless problematic relationships are restored, among peers and teachers alike, teaching and learning will surely be undermined.  Too often we have student behavior systems which leave the adults’ behavior entirely out of the equation.  So the kid never feels invited into the fold.  That just won’t work among modern kids.

So, as Thorsborne says, “This business is really about relationship management.”

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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How Dominic Barter Developed Restorative Justice in Brazil

Published by EducationNews.org — “How do you sit with people in their pain, without producing solutions, without brainstorming?”

Dominic_Barter

Decades ago, Dominic Barter fell for a beautiful Brazilian.  He’s English; they met in Europe.  Alas, in time she had to return home.

They could only afford one phone call a month.  But after about 6 months, they realized that the cost of those calls was about the same as an airplane ticket.  So in 1992, Barter went to Rio de Janeiro, believing he’d be going to “that place that you see in all the photographs, with all those beautiful beaches and mountains and forests.”  And it was that — “the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, with the most beautiful people.”

But he was shocked to find that Brazil was embroiled in a violent civil war and had been for centuries.  He might have expected such civil division in Johannesburg.  But who knew that Brazil has 2.8% of the world’s population and 13.9% of the world’s murders?  “It’s more dangerous to be young in Rio than in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Uganda together.”  (He was speaking at a restorative justice conference last June, so Syria’s stats might have changed since then.)

Just beyond Rio’s stunning tourist destinations are the favelas, or slums, on the city’s outskirts.  Barter wandered from his girlfriend’s apartment to a nearby shantytown, one of the most densely populated square miles in South America.  There, gang members use military grade weapons.  The Red Cross trains doctors in Brazilian favelas to give them experience with the kinds of wounds inflicted by military weapons.

Barter badly wanted to respond to Brazil’s situation.  

So he asked people what he could do to help.  To a person they said — carefully, kindly — that he could do nothing.  He was a gringo who could not understand the context of the strife.  Besides, he didn’t speak the language, and had no relevant skills.  Eventually, he couldn’t “bear it any longer” and went back to Europe.

While home, he remembered an incident he’d seen in Amsterdam years before.  He was bicycling on a narrow path along a canal and had to stop for a couple ahead of him who were having a fight.  He watched and noticed that the less they understood one another, they more they raised their voices.  “It was as if their bodies were confused, thinking that the distance in understanding is a geographical distance. If one was on the other side of the canal, it would make sense for the other to raise their voice to be heard.”  But they were next to each other.  When they finished their argument, he was on his way and forgot about it.

But in mulling over this memory he realized he had a useful tool in hand: listening.  He could go back and listen to the people in the shantytowns and elsewhere.  He no longer felt helpless.  Perhaps all the killing, the fences, the paramilitary activities, the atrocities — perhaps all that was “the volume being raised on something which people have been saying for years and still hasn’t been heard.”

So Barter went back to Brazil.

He learned the language and went back to the shantytown.  During the mornings, he and the kids had the streets to themselves.  The women were off at work, many cleaning houses.  The men were sleeping since they’d spent all night fighting.  Police only came around to buy back the guns they’d lost the night before.  The kids were suspicious of him since the only reason a gringo would be there was to buy drugs, but they softened since he came with no answers, only dialogue.  He learned to be patient about getting responses.  “Don’t work in this field [restorative justice] if you don’t like silence.”

His command of the language and his connections to the kids grew a little bit stronger all the time.  But “it was challenging when they said something painful.  How do you sit with people in their pain, without producing solutions, without brainstorming?”  He listened.

“I had been trained that conflict is dangerous.  When conflict is painful, you move away as far as you can.  Conflict needs to be resolved.  It’s threatening.”  Both the people having conflict and the conflict itself need to be suppressed, silenced in a way that gives emotional storm and fury no outlet.  So conflict grows into cyclical retribution — I hurt you; you hurt me; I hurt your mother.

“Now my challenge was to walk towards conflict.”

Over time, he, the kids and those adults who drew near to their conversation began meeting in circles in which each person is seen and heard.  Together, led by Barter, they figured out what simple techniques and mutual agreements worked best to allow the speaking and hearing of painful, heartfelt information.  Barter says, “we didn’t realize we were doing Restorative Justice.”  Ultimately, though, the protocols were collected and disseminated by Restorative Circles.

Now, decades later, Dominic Barter is a sought-after speaker and a rock star in the small but growing universe of restorative justice.  First drawn by love, Brazil had nearly defeated him with its atrocious brutality.  But he managed to be an effective reformer — with nothing fancier than listening.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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sujatha baliga’s Grueling Journey from Vengeance to Restorative Justice

Published by EducationNews.org — It’s not so easy to align yourself with your enemies, walk in their shoes.

sujatha_baliga

Hardly anyone discovers Restorative Justice and clicks immediately into its mindset.  Most restorative practitioners have some odd story about how they stumbled, slid, or arrived kicking and screaming to do the work of Restoration.  sujatha baliga’s epic tale of sound and fury is among the most dramatic.  It’s even star-studded.  (She does not capitalize her name.)

Currently, which is to say at the happier end of the story, baliga is the Director of the Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice in Oakland, California.  She came to national attention in 2013 when the New York Times published a piece about her work with the two families of two teenagers — murder victim Ann Grosmaire and the killer, her boyfriend.  baliga has since become a familiar public speaker advocating for Restorative Justice.

Her story begins when she was growing up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania where she was “the only minority,” or felt like it.  Horribly, her father abused her sexually over the course of years.  So by the time she was entering adulthood, she’d become a furiously angry young woman.  Her life dream was to become a prosecuting attorney with the power to punish the daylights out of bad guys like her father.  She told her story to at least 500 people at the most recent National Association of Community and Restorative Justice conference.  She’s not private about what happened, probably because it drove her journey to a more tranquil justice.

After graduating from Harvard she became an advocate for victims.  She says, “I was very angry at my father, all men and all “isms” [belief systems].  I left a lot of broken people and things in my wake.  About the time I graduated from college I was fixing other people and not paying much attention to myself.”  She also suffered fierce, debilitating migraines, resenting her doctors for failing to diagnose the cause and suggesting they had a psychological source.

baliga meets with the Dalai Lama

Shrugging as if it makes no sense to her even now, baliga tells us she decided to follow a then-boyfriend to India.  He was setting up a school for the children of HIV-positive sex workers.  These moms, traumatized victims of poverty and the sex trade, got upset as they told baliga about the atrocities they’d endured.  But somehow they hadn’t been broken.  baliga, feeling irreparably damaged by her abuse, asked how this was possible.  The women explained that they practice forgiveness.  “What?!  How did you learn that?”  It seemed out of the question.

baliga then had “a full-on breakdown.”  She didn’t give details.  But the people around her, including the sex workers, suggested she talk to the Dalai Lama.  Huh?  You can’t just go talk to the Dalai Lama.  They recommended that she send him a note.  Getting the attention of a world leader with a note was beyond far-fetched, but baliga did write one.  She explained that she was consumed with anger and asked how she could do her work when she was so impaired.

A week later she went to his monastery to see if the note had arrived.  Well, yes it had, and apparently he’d had a cancellation.  Could she see him then?  They talked for an hour.

“How do you forgive?”

On the one hand, her fury seemed entirely justified.  But she also knew that “trying to remove my father was like cutting out my own DNA.”  It can’t be done.  The Dalai Lama listened patiently.

He offered two suggestions:  First, that while she had a very bright mind, it had run amuck with rage.  Before anything else, she needed to learn how to master her own mind.  The technique for that, as you might guess, was to meditate.

But secondly, he recommended that she align herself with her enemies, walk in their shoes, have empathy. baliga laughed in his face.  Her plan was to enter law school with the specific goal of “locking up the bastards.” She lived for vengeance.  She was out for blood.

He patted her knee and said, “Okay, just meditate.”

And she did.  She entered an ashram and for 10 days did nothing but meditate.  The rage began to melt away. She said softly, “And in time, it was gone.”  It is still her habit to go on meditation retreats a couple times a year and to meditate an hour a day, though she wishes it could be two.

For her, she says, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.  It’s relinquishing anger and retribution and the desire for vengeance.”  Please bear in mind that no restorative practitioner believes forgiveness is easy.  It’s often a long, hard, painful slog.  baliga was one of those who came to RJ kicking and screaming. But she got there.  “Restorative Justice is about the transformative stories that come about when we hear one another.  Forgiveness comes up with or without [using] the word.”

If you get a chance, go hear her speak.  She’s fascinating.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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