Blog | April 25, 2017

Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention Support

How school discipline reform can lead to fewer suspensions and expulsions while yielding more positive outcomes

What is restorative justice? It’s a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. More and more, schools are taking this approach and applying it to reform their own school discipline policies—using the concept of restorative justice to help children repair the harm they commit by their infraction.

How Restorative Justice Works in Schools

Specifically, restorative justice is implemented in lieu of suspension or expulsion. For example, if a child commits an infraction, whether it’s nonviolent or violent, the child has to first own up to what they’ve done and why, then work to restore the damage that they’ve caused—from vandalism to injuring someone. Rather than expelling or suspending the student from school, restorative justice seeks to reform the child and the victim together. All the while, a child’s education is not interrupted.

Juan Cloy, a former Jackson, Mississippi police officer for 17 years, is now the Mississippi Project Coordinator for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. His main goal is to make sure that restorative justice is just not a standalone policy, but rather something that is implemented across the entire Biloxi and Jackson public school districts. His other goal? To abolish the suspensions and expulsions typically applied to fights among students. “Children fight. Grown people fight. It’s not the end of the world. Restorative justice is perfect for this type of infraction. Not only does it address the infraction directly, and lowers the likelihood of it happening again, but it lowers suspension rates and increases attendance and graduation rates.”

Restorative justice not only addresses the infraction directly, but it lowers suspension rates and increases attendance and graduation rates.

Juan Cloy, Mississippi Project Coordinator, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

As a personal testimony, Cloy recalls a time in his youth where he and a friend were suspended for three days for fighting another kid, who was also suspended. “It was like a vacation. We’re out of school, but he’s out of school too. Subsequently, we ran into the same kid in the streets, and got a gun pulled on us. Not very effective, is it?”

Yet, with restorative justice, Cloy explains, kids sit next to the person they’ve wronged and get to know them. They got in trouble together, and now they’re working together and getting closer to each other and to a peaceful resolution. The idea? “It’s easier to hurt someone you don’t know. Harder to hurt someone you do know,” says Cloy.

Positive Behavioral Intervention Support (PBIS)

But even before implementing a restorative justice system, it’s important that schools have positive behavioral intervention support (PBIS). PBIS is a school-wide prevention strategy for improving behavior and school climate. With PBIS, schools create three to five clear behavioral expectations and rules that all students and teachers know and follow. From the outset, PBIS sets a positive interaction between the student and teachers, school resource officers (SRO), bus drivers, or any adult. So even before there are issues, the school is creating a really positive environment for that child. The idea is that with PBIS in place, hopefully there wouldn’t be a need for restorative justice to be implemented. Instead, positive behavioral intervention support is another tool that schools can utilize to avoid suspensions and expulsions while developing a plan to get a child back on track in a much more positive way.

From a law enforcement perspective, restorative justice and PBIS are ways to take the burden off police officers. “There are lots of juvenile arrests for small infractions, like talking back,” says Cloy. “Our training to treat juveniles is minimal. Cops are taught to arrest people who don’t obey,” he says. “But police are the community, so they can never be separate from the community. So it’s important to know how to deal with young people in the 21st century.”

Cloy also notes that when a youth is locked up in a detention center, that detention clutters up the justice system, not to mention draining a budget that could be used for other things. Paperwork from that detention is also time consuming, as is contacting the parent or guardian, the principal, and going to court. Also, processing juvenile crime becomes a public safety issue. “Cops are not out there catching the real bad guys; instead they’re dealing with housing and educating a 13 year old,” he says.

Cloy concludes by saying that using restorative justice and PBIS is where school districts are headed. It’s just a question of how fast they’re headed there. He, for one, is hoping to help expedite the process. “Mississippi is dead last in just about everything good. We don’t want to be last in embracing PBIS and restorative justice.”

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