So apparently Restorative Justice (RJ) causes huge decreases in reoffending rates when used by the police. Great. If that’s really true and the evidence is robust, I think we should use it to reduce crime.
However, I worked in a school that thought that because the above claim has been made, we should have Restorative Justice at the centre of the school’s work on behaviour. 12 staff had five days off to train as RJ facilitators. I’ll just let that sink in with you for a minute. 60 days of (mainly) teacher time. That’s a lot of public money. Plus the training was not cheap.
It worked something like this:
A child does something wrong. They get sent out. They get picked up by SMT, who then take them to their office for a “chat” and listen to them. The child is then invited to a Restorative Justice meeting. One of the RJ team then arranges a meeting with the victim – ie the teacher. This lasts up to an hour usually. I’m not sure why it takes so long to say “Eric called me a dickhead” but anyway. Then there is an additional meeting with the child, who thus gets another hour away from working in lessons as a reward for calling his teacher a dickhead.
Then there is a meeting where the mediator invites both parties to explore the others’ needs. I’m not joking – needs. So they can resolve it and move on.
The kid invariably ends up insulting the teacher – eg “I called him a dickhead because his lessons are boring” and the balance is that the kid is allowed to make demands. S/he has also now had three hours out of lessons, as a reward for calling a teacher a dickhead. The teacher has used most of their week’s non-contact time.
What does the kid learn from that? A clue is that it is rarely that it is not worth their while not doing it again.
The teacher learns that they are undermined, that the kid is the powerful one and runs the school. The teacher learns that they probably are better off sancitoning/ contacting parents themselves. This is a solution for SMT, as behaviour incidents “decrease” as they aren’t logged.
The way I see it, the police generally convict, and use prison, and then RJ is used to make reparations – for the perpetrator to see what they’ve done to the vicitm and to show that not only will breaking the law cause very serious sanctions, but that it’s pretty devastating to lives as well.
We managed, in the school I worked in at the time, to use RJ to avoid sanctions and to show how inclusive and caring we are.
I think “Restorative Justice” should run like this in schools – a kid does something wrong enough that the teacher wants to remove them from the lesson, they are removed from the lesson and work in a seclusion room for the rest of the day. If it’s repeated, or in any way justifies it because of severity, it is an exclusion. The “RJ meeting” is when the kid and parents return to school and if the kid can’t tell the ways in which s/he has stolen learning from other kids (the real victims) that kid does not come back. Restoration of the relationship with school is the responsibility of the person who does the wronging, and that means the child needs to learn to do this.
Why? Because though all people are equal as citizens, they’re not equal in status. The teacher has gone through (usually) up to 100 examinations, at least two interviews and many application forms to get the qualifications and the job that confers status. Their status means that what they say happened in their classroom happened (I feel like I need to insert a disclaimer in here in case someone wants to argue that sometimes teachers lie, so I’ll say ‘unless there are exceptional circumstances that cause concern’) and the kid needs punishing.
And Restorative Justice has no place in schools. Kids need to learn about justice.