Restorative Justice and the Promise of Change
This month, we’re bringing you a multi-part update on our Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project. Read part 1 here.
Today, Dr. Anne Gregory, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University discusses the outlook for the second half of the project.
Anne has conducted research and evaluation to help schools improve their implementation of Restorative Justice. Her commitment to high quality Restorative Justice in schools is driven by the need to reduce race and gender disparities in school discipline. Her research interests also include leveraging strong teacher-student relationships for positive change, and supporting teachers through engaging and sustained professional development. On a personal note, Anne was born and raised in Brooklyn herself.
Now that we have determined a range of ways to find out if restorative justice (RJ) is being implemented, we will be able to continue to survey students, staff and administrators over the next two years. Year 1 involved setting up and beginning to track RJ implementation, and then we were able to ask those involved, including teachers, staff, and administrators, about their experiences. With a baseline of information from the first surveys, we will be able to record changes in attitudes and practices as RJ implementation continues.
For example, surveys for students include statements like, “When someone misbehaves, my teachers ask students about their side of the story,” and “My teachers take students’ thoughts and ideas into account when making decisions,” with choices to mark not at all/rarely, sometimes, or often/always as answers.
We know from a lot of different case studies that discipline referral rates tend to go down and suspension rates tend to go down in schools that implement RJ or restorative practices. We don’t know as much about other indicators: sense of community, perceived safety, and access to supportive adults. And, while we won’t be able to claim that RJ causes change in these areas, we will be able to see patterns in the data that suggest it has promise.
We’re going to look to see if the students report that they have not been kicked out of class, if the rate of removal from class for behavioral reasons goes down, if students find the climate more supportive, whether the teachers find that there’s less stereotyping, and whether or not students and staff perceive their school as fair and just. We’ll also see whether or not some of these outcomes might be correlated. We will begin to answer questions like: What helps schools implement RJ? And what about RJ helps students, staff, and administrators? Do students have positive associated outcomes? This project is about looking at the promise of restorative justice.
While RJ is sometimes characterized as a disciplinary alternative, we hope to document the ways that it improves school culture as a whole. As one RJ practitioner explained, “What we are doing is not necessarily going into schools and restoring the harm, but bigger than that. We’re looking at a cultural shift.”
In addition to our research, randomized control practices are forthcoming from Maine and Pittsburgh as well as from Brooklyn, and we will be looking at that data to see how it might reflect or differ from what we are finding in the schools that are part of the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project.
As the national debate surrounding school discipline continues, this research will contribute vital information to the conversation.
This blog was written in partnership with Maria Yvlisaker, a Communications Intern with Brooklyn Community Foundation for Spring 2018.