Insights to Impact

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Tackling the School-to-Prison Pipeline with Transformative Justice

Hi, I’m Nicole Lavonne Smith and I’m the Restorative Justice Coordinator for Sweet River Consulting at Science Skills Center High School. We’re proud to be part of the Foundation’s Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project, helping our city and schools to embrace this breakthrough alternative to traditional school discipline.  

Sweet River is a team of experienced educators dedicated to providing support, training, and evaluation in the areas of restorative and transformative justice. We see restorative justice as a critical paradigm shift in how we define and respond to issues of justice (and injustice) at multiple levels: internally, interpersonally, institutionally, and ideologically. 

Through ongoing training, resources and support in restorative practices to the entire school community (including parents), we work to combat the School-to-Prison Pipeline in a way that builds and strengthens trust and sense of safety, which positively impacts teaching and learning and the well-being of all within the school community.

Our model erases the “victim-perpetrator” label, so that we don’t reproduce divisions that often play out in who is seen as a “victim” and who is seen as “perpetrator.” We place understanding the root causes of harm and violence at the center of our work—framing incidents in the necessary context of structural inequities and the way we as a society perpetuate retribution and oppression. 

Because restorative justice stems from indigenous traditions, the most meaningful practices are culturally responsive and aware of how young people—especially Black and brown youth and LGBT teens—often experience the deepest harms by institutions that have not adapted to meet their unique needs.

Most importantly, we see all of our school-based restorative justice work connected to and in conversation with movements for social justice beyond school walls.

We believe “restorative” intervention—in schools and outside—should:

  1. Recognize how power is unequally distributed, and disproportionately negatively affects youth of color and LGBT youth, among others;
  2. Dismantle what maintains these power hierarchies;
  3. Commit to non-punitive practices;
  4. Rebuild relationships based on trust, inclusion, accountability and justice, and
  5. Understand that those who experience the greatest harms can be experts in imagining new solutions. 

We actively work with school community members to reframe meaningful conversations through this restorative lens. We encourage and support their passions and consistently challenge them to look outside of the often damaging conventions of a national public school system in ways that increase value, understanding and respect for students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with special needs. 

We are so excited to develop and deepen this work over the next four years at Science Skills Center High School and make a departure from traditional models of punishment while working towards racial justice.

Nicole Lavonne Smith

Restorative Justice Coordinator at Sweet River Consulting
"Our model erases the 'victim-perpetrator' label, so that we don’t reproduce divisions that often play out in who is seen as a 'victim' and who is seen as 'perpetrator.'"