Posts Tagged RESTORATIVE PRACTICES

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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Punishment is Not Accountability

Published by EducationNews.org — Being forced to think twice is how we change behavior and develop a conscience.

principal

Webster’s Dictionary defines accountability as “The state of being liable to answer for one’s conduct.”  Everyone needs to be able to give an account for their actions at times.  In fact, they should expect to do so when they misbehave or just make mistakes.  We owe it to each other to dig into our thinking and feelings to articulate our side of the story.  The details are critical to understanding what happened and what will make things right.

Listening to someone unpack their mistakes takes patience.  But unless they do, how on earth can they learn not to do it again?  Who knows what relevant information gets missed when we rush to judgment?

A terrific high-school principal makes a serious mistake.

A principal well-versed in Restorative Practices, whom we’ll call Mr. Draco, tells this story about himself.  A student complained that her cell phone was stolen from her backpack.  Insult to injury, she’d earned the money to buy the phone herself.

Her teacher had taken the class outside on a lovely day, so the girl described the spot where students had parked their backpacks when the theft occurred.

Draco and a Restorative Dean (of Discipline) went through the security tapes.  The video was grainy, but they identified the thief as a girl who was constantly in trouble.  School meant nothing to her.  Teachers were good and sick of her, and everyone’s kinder, gentler efforts had failed to date.  Frankly, Draco was relieved she’d finally done something they could kick up to the police, who might be able to scare her into more cooperative behavior.

But before calling the cops, Draco called the mom.  He assured both her and the girl that if the phone were returned, the consequences would not include police.  The girl denied the allegation.  Mom flew into a giant rage, hollering about how the school always targets her daughter, trumping up all sorts of nonsense.  Draco assured them this was not trumped up and that they could come the next day to see the tape for themselves.  If the girl brought the phone, they’d figure out an appropriate restitution.

Discipline conversations were held in the Dean’s office, which happened to have new video equipment with crisper images.  Just to be sure, they looked again and lo, they’d been dead wrong.  The real culprit was someone else, a “good” girl.  In effect, they’d profiled the accused.  She’s a bad kid; it looked like her; done deal.

Draco was so freaked he called the Restorative Coordinator for advice.

OMG.  He’d jumped to conclusions.  No two ways about it.  He took great pride in his close-but-honest relationships with the kids.  And here he was guilty of the same knee-jerk behavior he tries to curb among the kids.  The day had been fast-moving, distracting, busy.  Could there be legal repercussions against him or the school?  His reputation would be shot among the parents.  This was catastrophic.

The Coordinator let him vent and then suggested taking a deep breath.  What restorative practice is needed here?  When a kid has done something wrong, what should happen?  Ah!!  Yes!!  Draco would own up to what he’d done and be accountable.  Mom and daughter might still be hideous to him; they had a right to be mad.  But at least he could be big enough to confess his poor judgment.

“I was wrong” was the first thing he said when the daughter opened the door.  Luckily they didn’t slam it in his face.  Instead, they heard him out.  All but cringing, he gave an honest account of what happened and why he’d jumped to conclusions.  He and the girl had had many run-ins.  If Mom and the girl saw the image in the grainy video, they’d see it did look a lot like her.  So it wasn’t nuts, just wrong.

He worried that if that’s how he’s thinking about her, maybe others are, too.  Mom and girl were pleased and grateful for his explanation and for letting her off the hook.  This apology was deeply satisfying.  Most importantly, his confessional point of view helped the girl see her behavior in a new light.  For once, they could talk about how to get her on a better track.  All of them felt better.  His relationship with the girl, still no angel, improved a lot.

Accountability does not mean punishment.  It’s not about paying for the crime.  In fact, punishing requires little or nothing of the culprit.  And compared with typical punishments, giving a full account of your behavior can feel like full-on torture.  You’re seeing yourself through the eyes of others.  Sometimes it’s not pretty.  But being forced to think twice is how we change behavior and develop a conscience.  Punishment is a useless distraction from the real work.

 

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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Recidivism is Expensive, Let’s Try Something Else

Published by EducationNews.org — Trying to punish people into compliance costs a lot, and more importantly, doesn’t work.

jail

This is our third look at how Judge Pamela Williams, in her mental health court in Nova Scotia, successfully kept offenders from further contact with police, courts, and jail.  Using the CoSA model — see last week’s column — she worked with experts in different fields to figure out how to “help them out of the place that they are in,” as she put it.

Today’s question is: CoSA works, but at what cost?

To set the stage, first conjure in your mind an Excel budget sheet.  Labels at the top read: Housing, Health, Mental Health, Prison, Courts, Children Protective Services, Schools, Higher Ed, Workforce Development, and I’m sure you can think of more.  Each of these state or city public services has its own mission, and not to confuse things, each has its own huge budget spreadsheet. Hierarchies, job descriptions, and business habits are baked into those budgets, leaving little flexibility.  So as we consider another of Judge Williams’ stories illustrating her Court’s challenges, mentally map where various costs might be posted, but remember that Judge Williams herself controls only her portion of the Excel column marked “Courts.”

A woman we’ll call Rosalie was “a very complex case.”

Rosalie had limited intelligence, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.  Also, she was an unusually large woman, which added to the extent that she was hard to control at times.

Occasionally she’d sink into a depression so severe she became suicidal.  She’d sneak out of her group home and head for a particular bridge where she’d threaten to end her life.  Not that she did.  But the police couldn’t just let traffic flow by an apparent suicide in progress; they had to close the bridge.  Bridges over water, such as this one, have no side streets to which traffic can be diverted.

A competent bean-counter could probably arrive at a solid estimated cost for the small platoon of police needed to get her into an ambulance or patrol car… and the emergency efforts of the Department of Transportation, her subsequent hospitalization, public defenders, and so on.  However, it’s impossible to monetize the inconvenienced drivers who were late to appointments, no-shows at job interviews, or charged extra for late daycare pick-up.

Yes, of course they had tried to stop her.  Ferverently.  Rosalie had been in court repeatedly, jailed, on probation, back in prison — caught in an expensive, vicious cycle.  The Law could keep her locked up, but she was a wretched innocent, not a criminal deserving the punishment of prison.  The costs of punishing her into compliance were also not cheap, but more importantly, not working.

The traditional courts sent her over to Judge Williams.

Williams assembled her CoSA team of professionals, including the directors of Rosalie’s group home.  Obviously the directors had talked to the police and other agencies on her behalf.  But under what circumstances, other than a CoSA meeting at Williams’ court, would they sit down together to get it to stop?  Typically, the psychiatrist of record hardly talks to the therapist, never mind solves problems with a team that includes family and other stakeholders.  Where is the Excel column for cross-agency collaboration?

In any case, the group discovered that Rosalie absolutely treasured her home.  It was comfortable, with kind friends who took her back, fed and soothed her.  They concluded that her love of her home could be carefully deployed as leverage.  No one wants to do tough love.  But they worked with Rosalie to get a deal with her — if she did her bridge thing again, she would be banned from the home and need to live somewhere else.

Predictably, in time, it happened once more.  Williams didn’t say where Rosalie lived or for how long after her poor choice.  Wherever it was, she hated it passionately, as all had hoped.  Per prior agreement, and after a painful amount of time, she was allowed back into the home and never offended again.  It worked.

Williams says, “We have one mental-health court.  Even that court doesn’t have enough resources.  It’s expensive to restore broken people and relationships.  The people around those offenders are broken.  Victims are broken.”  Everyone involved in a crime needs the healing powers of restoration — or the problems linger, or worse, fester.

But only through sheer power of persuasion, and judicious use of scarce resources, did Judge Williams get experts from across the Excel spreadsheet to jump their column.  Who pays for that?  No group home runs on such a cushy margin, they can easily send people for team meetings.  Therapists and psychiatrists don’t work for free, so the entire spreadsheet would have to ease up so the resources are there to make up these teams.   Think of the cost savings to Police, Health, Transportation, etc.

Recidivism is absurdly expensive.  Rosalie’s trips to the bridge cost a fortune.  Stopping them, in a humane fashion, saved a lot of money for Police, Transportation, Emergency Medicine, and more, not to mention the taxpaying public.  If the real goal of Justice is to reduce recidivism, Judge Williams has excellent answers.  What we’re doing now doesn’t work for anyone.

 

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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The Justice System Can’t Ignore Mental Health

Published by EducationNews.org — We need to understand each other’s stories for justice to get done.

pamela_williams

Chief Judge Pamela Williams, Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia

A woman we’ll call Jane embezzled money from her company. She’d been feeding a nasty gambling habit and her boss figured it out.  She was arrested, jailed, and wound up in front of a judge.

Now, what would normally happen at this point in her story is that the courts would determine her guilt or innocence, via lawyers and evidence.  Actually, her crime was so blatant, they hardly needed to bother.  After exhausting a lot of resources proving the obvious, she normally would have been sentenced and added to the prison population for who-knows-how long.

Instead, lucky Jane came before Judge Pamela Williams, who then presided over the mental health court in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Williams has since become the Chief Judge of the region’s Family Courts.  Her career began with 20 years working with Legal Aid, focusing mostly on the mentally ill, drug-addicted, poor, and illiterate.  In 2003 she was appointed to be a judge in the juvenile justice courts.  In that role, she made a name for herself by radically reducing recidivism, which really should be the point of a court system.  Her success led to her being tapped to develop a specialized mental health court in 2010.  It was there that she met Jane.

For years, Jane had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. 

Jane gambled compulsively during her manic episodes.  This is by no means excuses what she did.  But she was falling apart.  Her marriage was on the rocks, and of course her former employer all but wanted blood.  The traditional justice system is not really set up to consider the conditions in which a crime is committed.  A crook is a crook, no matter the complicated circumstances such as mental illness.

Whether in Halifax or the U.S., the mentally ill tend to get involved with the law, which only sees guilt and innocence as the issue, not how to stop the cycle.  In America, the largest mental health facilities are prisons.

When working in the juvenile justice system, Williams began using restorative justice techniques.  As such, she used the occasion of the crime as a red flag signaling mental or social illness.  Before passing judgment, she reached out to the kid’s immediate and extended family, social services, teachers, and whomever could help get him or her out of whatever wretched place they were in and onto a more productive road.

When possible, the offender would face his victims and hear their experience.  The kid needed to make things right by doing restitution and taking responsibility for her actions.  But the group needed to get to the root problem and solve it so the community was not continuously harmed by the anti-social behavior, or recidivism would surely occur.  Not surprisingly, the RJ is far more effective at reducing reoffending than traditional justice, because its techniques unpack mitigating circumstances like mental illness.

Jane’s was a relatively simple case.  

Williams got professionals involved to get her stabilized on proper drugs.  Once she was stable, Jane’s husband was willing to let those same professionals educate him about the illness itself and what he could do to de-escalate her symptoms and to take care of himself.  She learned to be more responsible; he learned to avoid being victimized by her.

Once Jane had a support system in place, Williams held a RJ conference (meeting) with the employer who, frankly, called Jane a liar and a thief.  But when he heard the larger story about her journey with mental illness, he felt less targeted and also less victimized.  The conference participants helped her figure out how to make restitution to the employer.  He walked away satisfied.

Williams says, “Once we understand each others’ stories, it helps.  Jane heard how her actions had affected others.”  She felt the hurt she’d caused.  Her remorse motivates her to be med compliant and self-controlled.  End of story.

The Courts never saw her again.  A very good thing.  We need to understand more about mental health courts because they have the ability to stop whatever cycle the troubled person is in.

We’ll hear more of William’s fund of cases and experiences in the coming couple of weeks.

 

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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Restorative Justice in Vermont 22 Years On

Published by EducationNews.org — Centralized quality control and some standardization need to be balanced with local community culture.

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“Fifty years from now, people will look back and see a truly transformative model.  One that applies not only to what human beings really are, but also what they really need from justice.”

I realize many a group of radicals, idealists or visionaries have made similar statements, also in pursuit of Justice, often in basements of churches or empty storefronts.

But this time is different.  The Restorative Justice ideas transforming Vermont’s public services are no longer new and radical.  At least, not there.  Since 1993, they’ve been taking root and growing in Vermont’s culture.  On this lovely June day in 2015, Marc Milhaly, President of Vermont Law School, makes the statement above to Restorative Justice (RJ) practitioners representing all 14 of Vermont’s counties, across different public sectors from justice to schools.  Today’s topic is how to take the existing good programs and scale them up.  Vermont wants to be a fully Restorative state, but currently has many pockets of Restorative excellence and not yet a full transformation.  Still, the hard work is laudably underway.

A bit of history

Back in the 1990s, Vermont officials decided RJ would help them shrink their prison system along with the rising costs associated with incarceration.  And especially in the case of juvenile offenders, the traditional punishment system tended just to make things worse.  Kids’ rebellion only hardened.  Corrections didn’t teach them the social skills they needed to be successful in the community, so the state funded its 14 counties to develop juvenile justice diversion systems designed to respond directly to the needs of crime victims and to get offending youth onto a productive path.  For these diversion systems to be considered “restorative” they needed to recognize that:

1.  Crime is a violation of people and relationships.  (As opposed to a crime against the laws of the state.)

2.  Violations create obligations.  (Such as restitution, repair of harm, perhaps apology)

3.  Restorative justice engages victims, offenders and community members — all those affected by the crime — in an effort to put things right.

Key here is “putting things right.”  You can’t do that unless the people who’ve been affected get a say in “what’s right.”  The traditional system has no place for victims to take an active role in decision making, not to mention involving the community in which they all live.  The new systems must be radically inclusive, because at the end of the day, victims and offenders need to be okay with one another as they return to their lives in their tight-knit Vermont villages.

However radical, the guidelines above are also very broad

Vermont’s spirit is not exactly “Live Free or Die” — that would be New Hampshire — but it too has fiercely autonomous towns.  The various counties created strategies that were different from one another.  Some adapted techniques used abroad in places like New Zealand and Australia.  Others studied the Mennonites and the works of Howard Zehr and developed their own.  But as a result, “each county as its own unique constellations of programs and agencies that deliver restorative justice interventions,” according to an as-yet unpublished report on Advancing RJ.

Not surprisingly, then, RJ is unevenly executed across the state.  Some conference attendees worried out loud that some initiatives were Restorative in name only.  And others had considerable concern about access to RJ services, which are hardly equitable.  In communities that embraced the work early and enthusiastically, victims and offenders are well-informed about their restorative options.  Elsewhere, not so much.  Just as zip codes can determine the quality of a kid’s education, to a lesser extent access to restorative diversion differs depending on where you live in Vermont.  The state would like access, training and fidelity to the model to be more standardized.

The state wants to exercise some quality control

Officials have formed a central Oversight committee, which was not uniformly popular among conference participants.  Finding a balance will not be easy, but they’re onto something critically important.  As other states go forward, they too will run into this problem.  How can a state’s judicial system — and schools, social services, other public services — balance centralized quality control with genuine, truly local community involvement?  Hard question, but fascinating to ponder.

Too much standardization runs the risk of letting the public system become more important than the people it’s supposed to serve.  God knows this is a huge danger.  Healthcare is a business that creates unhealthy conditions because hospitals, insurance companies and the like put their own corporate health first.  The education industry can become so threatened and self-focused that it becomes more important than those it is supposed to educate.

The balance will be challenging in every state.  The Vermont participants seemed clear that this natural tension would inform, but not hinder, their efforts to scale up.  Centralized quality control, equity and some standardization will always need to be delicately balanced with local culture, traditions and beliefs.  Otherwise, people will not, as Milhaly says, get what they need.

 

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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Punishment is Not Discipline

Published by EducationNews.org — The end result of bad discipline strategy is prisons stuffed with high school drop-outs.

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Recently Eva Moskowitz took to the Wall Street Journal to blast New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for promoting what she calls “lax discipline” in City schools.  Her op-ed outright sneers at his efforts to expand disciplinary strategies beyond suspension.  As the founder of the Success Academies, famous for their high test scores and strict, traditional discipline, Moskowitz clearly feels she has the cred to malign discipline alternatives.

The problem is that she, along with so many others, confuse discipline with punishment and kicking kids out.  Discipline means to teach.  Yes, as a culture we’ve lost our compassion for children and developed zero tolerance for truly bad or even misguided behavior.  Suspensions teach intolerance of the behavior.  But where’s the lesson on how to behave cooperatively?  The practice sessions?  Is mere compliance good enough?

Moskowitz writes, “Suspensions convey the critical message to students and parents that certain behavior is inconsistent with being a member of the school community. Pretend suspensions, in which a student is allowed to remain in the school community, do not convey that message.”  The message is: you, Kid, are not welcome in our community.

Punitive methods ignore problems at the root of the behavior.

Punishing kids — yelling, berating, suspending — can teach some kids fear-driven compliance.  Certain kids become cowed into submission, which is convenient to authority figures, but disheartening.  Others temporarily stuff their desire to rebel and explode later on.  Still others get a whole lot worse right away.  Misbehavior often flags that the kid’s in trouble, so yelling at her misses an opportunity.  If Mom’s getting hit, or there’s no food in the house, Success Academies leave it to the kid to figure things out while hanging by the TV during a suspension.

Moskowitz writes: “Proponents of lax discipline claim it would benefit minority students, who are suspended at higher rates than their white peers. But minority students are also the most likely to suffer the adverse consequences of lax discipline—that is, their education is disrupted by a chaotic school environment or by violence.”

Agreed, disruptive behavior is a scourge on the schools.  It’s bad, getting worse and should not be tolerated.  But so much of it is learned and comes from home.  In order to avoid conflict, many parents don’t enforce bedtimes, homework, or chores.  Putting limits on violent video games?  As one parent told me, “I don’t roll that way.  He’d be so mad.”  So some kids come to school this side of feral, used to getting their way.  No question: something bold must be done.

Sometimes the only functional adults in a kid’s life are at school.

As research has argued for years, all kids, but especially “bad” kids, need to develop terrific relationships with caring adults.  Suspensions are fast and easy while creating relationships is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and therefore expensive.  Enforcing rules doesn’t require relationships; cooperation does.  Only the tugboat of a caring relationship can turn the Titanic of bad behavior.  Learning how to work well with others in a community setting is a critical skill for the low-income, minority children whom Moskowitz claims to hold dear to her heart.

In spite of the harsh stories about “no excuses” discipline, flocks of parents try to get their kids into such schools.  Last year Success Academies saw 20,000 applications for 2,688 seats in its 22 schools.  The test scores are attractive, but likely many parents are also hoping someone else will figure out how to teach their kids the discipline that they didn’t learn at home.   Success suspended 11% of their students last year, whereas the New York City public schools, where most Academies are located, suspended 4%.  Kick ‘em out; teach ‘em a lesson in intolerance.

Among the “lax discipline” techniques recommended by the Mayor are restorative practices.  Moskowitz says, “[Traditional] discipline also helps prepare students for the real world. In that world, when you assault your co-worker or curse out your boss, you don’t get a ‘restorative circle,’ you get fired.”  This is true.  But in the working world you’re an adult, not a kid.

What’s really lax is the ease of beating on a kid to get his compliance.  I marvel that few have a problem with “no excuses” schools being so proud of teaching compliance to children of color.  I see a this as a moral issue, given that middle class kids are more often coaxed into cooperation.  All kids need to learn to do the right thing because they see how it benefits them, and not just because it avoids emotional pain.

Sadly, building restorative relationships takes time.  And time costs money no one feels the taxpayer can afford.  Interestingly, the end result of bad discipline strategies — from harsh to neglectful — are prisons stuffed with high school drop outs.  Somehow we have no problem with finding tons of money for prisons.

 

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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Student Advocates for Better Discipline, Restorative Practices

Published by EducationNews.org — When adults and students don’t take time to listen to each other, they can’t possibly develop empathy.

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Xilian Sansoucy was hungry for leadership opportunities when she began her freshman year at Classical High School, an exam school in Providence.  “I think it’s exhilarating to present” in public, she said.  A friend pulled her into an organization called Young Voices (YV) which specializes in just that, nurturing student leadership. In collaboration with other student organizations, leaders from YV increasingly make themselves known and heard around the state, advocating for issues they’ve agreed are important. Sansoucy took to YV like the proverbial duck to water.

Young Voices’ training begins with gathering their new recruits into student-led workshops where they research a question and share their discoveries.  In one of these exercises, Sansoucy’s research on school discipline strategies revealed stark, even startling, differences between discipline at her old school, a private independent, and her new one, very much a public school.  She explains that as an Asian-American, she chose Classical for its student diversity and “to get opened up to the real world.”  Part of that real world is Classical’s traditional discipline system that relies primarily on suspensions and detention to control behavior.

She says, “But suspensions just postpone getting to a solution.  Then the student gets suspended again, and the problem still doesn’t get solved.  Some students like suspensions because they don’t like school.  So how are suspensions helping?”

The one time she remember a fellow private school student being suspended, he was completely out of control with rage.  She didn’t know why he was so mad, but he was calm when he came back.  His time away was more about cooling off than getting kicked out.

In the workshop on school discipline strategies, Sansoucy was able to put the words to her private school discipline: “restorative justice” and “restorative practices.”  If she misbehaved in her old school, she’d have to sit down with adults and discuss the issue until it was resolved or the circumstances restored.  Problems got solved and kids were less inclined to misbehavior.  So the disparities in approaches to discipline became an equity issue for her: her experience of private school discipline is that it works on teaching behavior with restorative conversations; public school kids get kicked out.

You and I might suggest that public school kids generally have more and tougher issues. Teachers have larger classes of these harder students.  Sansoucy would reject these circumstances as reasons not to give the students the attention they clearly need.  She feels that while public schools have many terrific teachers, they also tolerate teachers who just don’t care and who let their students know that.  When adults and students aren’t listening to one another, or don’t take the time to, they can’t possibly develop empathy for one another.  She believes that this lack of caring is feeds the punitive mentality.

Conversely, she feels that her private school teachers were so much more connected to the students that they noticed interpersonal tensions long before they festered into problems.  When a girl-fight did blow up into open argument, teachers sat down with them after school for as many days as it took to get to the bottom of the issue.  One girl was popular and the other resentful about getting left out of everything.  “We started to see them getting along again and hanging out.  I definitely believed that they (the private school) had the solution.  If they’d ignored the fight, it would have gotten worse.  The one girl was not wanting to come to school.”

Sansoucy says, “The downside is that restorative practices take more time and dedication from the teachers.  But it doesn’t have to be too fancy.  Being able to sit down in a circle with whoever has misbehaved, after school or in a classroom, doesn’t cost extra.  It’s just about getting people on board.  Once teachers and adults realize it’s more efficient, kids will stop misbehaving so much, and there will be more learning time.  It’s just a matter of helping them visualize how this will play out.  I’ve started spreading awareness of restorative practices.”

Already as a sophomore, this plucky young woman now goes out and speaks in intimidating circumstances.  She reports that her conversation with the Governor “was really nerve-wracking.”  Most recently she represented student voice in a speech to the annual Kids Count breakfast, easily the biggest political event of the year for those concerned with children and youth in Rhode Island.  Among her other remarks to them, she said:

“Currently at Classical, our discipline system has been very old fashioned.  But we can replace these punitive practices with restorative justice.  No student should be suspended for being tardy…  No student should have to get detention or suspension for something that easily could have been prevented by a simple talk with an adult, [allowing them to explain] why they had misbehaved, instead of expecting them to figure out for themselves what they’d done wrong.  If high school students are expected to behave like adults, we need to be treated like adults.”

She got a well-deserved standing ovation.  If she is the picture of future leadership, we might do very well.

 

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.

[Image: Peter Goldberg Photo]

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