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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the difference between Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice?

Restorative Practices are a set of proactive tools that cultivate community and help build relationships on school campuses. All students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members connected to a school can work in a restorative way by getting to know each other, actively listening to and respecting each other, and by creating a foundation of trust, empathy, and safety in the school environment. When people are engaging in a restorative way, it affects overall campus climate, touches the lives of every community member, and becomes a way of being that makes harm less likely to occur in the first place. We also recognize that sometimes harms do occur in our school communities and restorative justice is a specific responsive process under the umbrella of restorative practices that supports students responsible for harm and community members impacted by harm.

Restorative Justice is a way of thinking about conflict. The United Nations Working Group on Restorative Justice defines it in the following way: a process whereby parties with a stake in a particular offense resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future.

Restorative justice processes focus on the following principles:

  • Holding the student responsible for the offense accountable
  • Repairing the harm caused by the student responsible for the offense
  • Beginning the healing process for the people harmed and the community
  • Reintegrating the student responsible for the offense back into the community

Restorative Practices Pyramid

2. Is Restorative Justice new, and is it popular across the world?

Restorative Justice (RJ) concepts and practices have been used to build community and resolve conflict in indigenous cultures, including the Maori people of New Zealand, Native American tribes in the U.S., the Mayan people of Guatemala, and many others for thousands of years (Kay Pranis, Little Book of Circle Processes, 2005). Modern Western communities are beginning to call on these ancient practices as a new process to build strong and safe communities and resolve conflict through face to face interactions. In the 1970s the criminal justice system and k-12 schools in the United States began to use restorative practices to address community and school climate and offenses. Here in San Diego, criminal justice partners including police, probation, the district attorney's office, and Public Defenders, have partnered with the National Conflict Resolution Center to refer criminal cases for youth to a restorative process instead of to juvenile court.

3. Who can use Restorative Practices?

Restorative practices are rooted in the principal that everyone has the capacity to build relationships and resolve conflict restoratively with training, practice, support, and time. Therefore, anyone can benefit from learning about restorative practices. Restorative practices are non –denominational and inclusive of all cultures, abilities, ages, ethnicities, gender identity, and religions. Teachers, students, and school administrators can use restorative practices on campus. Restorative practices are employed within the criminal justice system by police officers, probation, public defenders, district attorneys, and judges. We can use a restorative approach with our families, neighbors, and colleagues.

4. What are the benefits of Restorative Practices?

Restorative practices are about creating stronger communities and cultivating relationships. Within schools, restorative practices has been successful at helping youth and adults communicate more effectively, minimizing student truancy, reducing school conflict, and lowering suspension and expulsion rates.

Lower rates of suspensions and expulsions have also been found to increase the academic scores of non-suspended students. A study published in the American Sociological Review (Winter, 2014), involving over 17,000 students in 17 middle schools and high schools in a Kentucky school district, found that students who have never been in trouble do worse at schools with higher suspension rates. Additionally, students that go to schools with lower suspension rates have higher end of year math and English scores. This shows the negative impact of zero-tolerance policies, such as suspensions and expulsions, on the academic success of all students in a campus community.

Restorative practices are also being used in more serious circumstances and have been effective in helping those affected by crime to heal. It can be used as an alternative to, or alongside more traditional justice responses.

Individuals who have received restorative training and utilize it's practices report that their work is easier, more enjoyable and more effective. Parents report better relationships with their children, residents report better relationships with their neighbors and youth report increased confidence and better relationships with their teachers, families, friends, and peers.

5. How is 'community' defined for the purpose of addressing harm through a Restorative Justice process?

The term community, as used in restorative justice, is not limited to a physical or geographic region. Rather, it is defined as members who have been directly or indirectly impacted by harm. Community may include the following:

  • Family members
  • Students
  • Key support staff (Administrators, teachers, counselors, coaches, etc…)
  • Mentors
  • Significant others for each party who have been impacted by the offence

6. Why is the need for Restorative Justice important?

The School-to-prison pipeline is a metaphor used to describe the increasing patterns of contact students have with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems as a result of the recent practices implemented by educational institutions, specifically zero tolerance policies and the use of police in schools. [Heitzeg, Nancy (2009)]. Through restorative practices we can utilize tools to hold student accountable for their actions while keeping them in school and out of the school to prison pipeline.