Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project
Brooklyn Community Foundation's Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project was a four-year school-based pilot program in partnership with the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, from the 2015-16 school year through 2018-19.
The project—which focused on a small cohort of Brooklyn secondary schools—aimed to implement restorative justice as an alternative to punitive discipline; with a goal to positively transform schools, repair harm, and promote the equitable treatment of Black students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ students citywide.
The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project is unique in that it prioritized addressing racial disparities in school discipline, and offers much needed research on restorative justice implementation. Findings from the project evaluation include an overall reduction in suspensions at participating schools, an increase in students’ sense of safety, as well as equitable access across student populations to non-punitive disciplinary responses.
Moreover, the project has yielded a series of comprehensive recommendations for school administrators and educators on how to successfully implement restorative justice practices to achieve racially just and culturally responsive school cultures.
“We initiated the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project to advocate for, and invest in, changes to our education system from within. Restorative justice offers a powerful tool for transforming the ways our schools value and respect all students, especially Black youth. At this time when our nation is crying out for racial justice and communities of color are reeling from the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools can be lifelines for young people. But to fulfill this promise, we must redesign them with racial justice and equity at their core.” - Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO Cecilia Clarke
The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project has helped inform and advance the NYC Department of Education’s goals of implementing restorative justice citywide, while bringing greater attention to the critical need to address anti-Black racism in school discipline. At the start of the project, there were nearly 38,000 suspensions citywide, compared to 70,000 in the 2010-11 school year. However, Black students received 52% of suspensions—even though they represent 26% of the student population, and students with special needs, who are 20% of the overall population, received 38% of all suspensions. In the 2018-19 school year, the total number of suspensions dropped to 32,801—yet profound disparities remained in regard to which students were punished. Black students received nearly 45% of suspensions, and 40% of all suspensions were issued to students with special needs.
“Brooklyn Community Foundation deserves a ton of credit. They were among the first to partner with us on restorative justice and helped kick start the NYC Department of Education’s restorative justice pilot programs in 150 schools citywide. Their partnership helped make this critical change real for our schools and our students.” - Kenyatte Reid, Executive Director of the Office of Safety and Youth Development within the New York City Department of Education
The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project began in the fall of 2015, when Brooklyn Community Foundation began funding nonprofit organizations to place full-time restorative justice coordinators in a small cohort of Brooklyn secondary schools selected by the Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office. The Foundation enlisted education researcher Dr. Anne Gregory at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology to evaluate the project using a racial justice lens, beginning in the spring of 2015-16 school year and concluding in the 2018-19 school year.
Dr. Gregory designed implementation measurements, established benchmarks, and surveyed progress and setbacks over a 3.5 year period. Schools and partner nonprofit organizations were evaluated based on improvements in school culture and a reduction in conflict, violent infractions, and suspensions.
“The project has been innovative through its explicit integration of racial justice and restorative justice initiatives. In addition, it has contributed much-needed understanding about the opportunities and challenges of implementation—a vastly under-studied area.” - Dr. Anne Gregory, Project Evaulator
What is Restorative Justice?
In schools, restorative justice aims to deter suspensions, school-based arrests, and all forms of disproportionately punitive discipline that largely target Black and Latinx students, students with special needs, and LGBTQ+ students and contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, while improving overall school climate and student outcomes. Instead, students are encouraged to activate social-emotional learning (SEL) skills by focusing on emotion identification, conflict resolution and problem solving. The use of these skills become part of a school’s daily practice. Students are taught to become leaders in their lives, and adults are trained in the restorative framework, recognizing that outside factors often have significant impacts on a students’ day-to-day response and those responses must be addressed through multiple approaches.
Dr. Gregory has produced three key documents from her study of the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project, which are aimed at informing educators and school administrators at large on best practices for racially justice restorative justice implementation:
- Evaluating Restorative Justice in Three Secondary Schools: Fidelity of Implementation and School Climate, Equity, and Safety Outcomes (2020) [Executive Summary Download]
- 12 Indicators of Restorative Practices Implementation: A Checklist for Administration (2019) [Download]
- Implementing Restorative Justice in Schools: Lessons Learned from Restorative Justice Practitioners in Four Brooklyn Schools (2016) [Download]
To request a copy of the full final report from Dr. Gregory, Evaluating Restorative Justice in Three Secondary Schools: Fidelity of Implementation and School Climate, Equity, and Safety Outcomes, contact her at Rutgers University.
Project Evaluation Findings
Compared to the three years prior, schools in the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project had more than a 53% reduction in the average number of suspensions across the last three project years. In fact, two schools reduced the average number of suspensions by 73%.
Student Survey Results:
- Student sense of safety improved in two schools and maintained high levels in one school.
- Two schools also had slight decreases in the percentage of students reporting they had been threatened with a weapon.
- In two schools, a smaller percentage of survey respondents indicated they had been hit, pushed, or attacked one or more times.
- Student-reported suspensions decreased substantially in two schools and maintained low rates in one school.
Recommendations to the Field of Restorative Justice based upon findings from the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project:
- During the early stages of implementation, administrators and staff become familiar with a principle-based, comprehensive, and equity-oriented model of restorative justice.
- Administrators manage expectations whereby change will likely be incremental over an extended period of time.
- Schools support teachers in implementing circles as part of instructional activities to help build community in classrooms.
- Schools clearly link restorative with equity initiatives.
- Schools continue to track a broad range of student outcomes, not just suspensions.
- Schools attend to the well-being of staff (as well as students).
Process and Partners
In 2015, the Foundation selected a small cohort of community-based nonprofit organizations through a competitive RFP process. Nonprofits were then matched with schools previously identified by the NYC DOE. Each program received $100,000 per school year in funding from the Foundation. All participating schools and organizations met throughout the project to share lessons learned, advice, and support.
- New York Peace Institute and the Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies in Coney Island. New York Peace Institute is one of the nation’s largest community mediation services, with expertise in special education mediation. They have previously partnered with the Department of Probation, the New York City Department of Education, NYPD and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s offices.
- Partnership with Children and Ebbets Field Middle School in Crown Heights. Partnership with Children provides critical social and emotional support for the hardest-to-reach students and engages families in the school community so they can succeed in school, society and life. They have social workers in 32 public schools in all five boroughs and manage all community resources and support services in 12 community schools.
- Sweet River Consulting and Science Skills Center High School in Downtown Brooklyn. The founders of Sweet River Consulting have over 10 years’ experience implementing school-wide restorative justice policies and programs, and providing youth programming and leadership development.
- Additionally, Good Shepherd Services partnered with the School for Democracy and Leadership in East Flatbush, but left the project in 2018 when the school merged with the School for Human Rights on the Wingate Campus.
Nonprofits hired and supported individual full-time Restorative Justice Coordinators in each school, who developed strategic plans in collaboration with school leadership. Coordinators oversaw all program components, including community-building restorative circles, conflict response, student reentry, positive school climate, and school-wide learning groups on restorative practices.
All organizations worked to ensure a racially just and culturally responsive lens to support students disproportionately impacted by punitive policies as well as address rights and responsibilities of special needs students. Recognizing the importance of student leadership in school culture, Coordinators also created opportunities for students to lead restorative justice programming.