By Erin Murphy
On Jan. 14, with support from the Connecticut Afterschool Network, the Rhode Island Statewide Afterschool Network hosted a webinar, Incorporating restorative justice in afterschool settings, defining restorative justice, explaining its benefits in the afterschool setting and addressing how it can be integrated into programs. The panel for this webinar was made up of high school student advocates who had experienced restorative justice systems in their own afterschool programs.
What is restorative justice?
Unlike punitive justice, which focuses on punishing the offender, restorative justice focuses on repairing harm done. The goal is to identify who was harmed, explore why it happened, and solve the issue by considering the needs of all individuals involved—the victims and offenders. Three important principles within restorative justice include: involving the entire community, encouraging equity, and utilizing a proactive strategy.
Involving the entire community: In a restorative justice system, leaders focus on how conflict and wrongdoings impact the entire community as well as the individual. This means the community is included in conflict resolution measures.
Encouraging equity: A punitive system is focused on equality, where all students would receive the same punishment. In a restorative justice system, the focus is on fairness, or ensuring all individuals get the same opportunities. This means consequences for an incident will be highly dependent on the nature of the incident and individuals involved.
Utilizing a proactive strategy: A punitive justice system is highly reactive, meaning no action is taken until conflict occurs. In restorative justice, the goal is to proactively build relationships and a sense of community to prevent conflict before it happens.
What can restorative practice look like afterschool?
Afterschool settings provide an ideal location for introducing a restorative justice system. Afterschool programs focus heavily on building a strong sense of community and assisting students with diverse backgrounds and needs, both of which are core focuses of the restorative justice system. Additionally, applying restorative justice practices provide youth the opportunity to develop important skills included in the social and emotional learning (SEL) core competencies, such as conflict resolution. With new research highlighting the importance of these SEL core competencies for success in school, future careers and life, afterschool programs have put more emphasis on building these skills.
To introduce a restorative justice system into afterschool, a change in the community mindset is required. The first step is to build trust between youth and adults. Program participants need to feel they are valued as part of the community. Program leaders need to be proactive by working with their youth to outline goals and behaviors that encourage a healthy community. Because restorative justice relies heavily on the community as a whole, all program staff should be trained, and parents informed, in restorative justice. There are many resources available to help implement a restorative justice system.
By introducing the restorative justice system through afterschool, we can use conflict resolution as an opportunity to teach youth important life skills, encourage social development and build a stronger community.