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How Restorative Justice Models Can Transform School Discipline

08 October 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

With the School-to-Prison Pipeline going strong in the United States, it is important to focus on alternate methods of discipline for struggling youth.Screen Shot 2015 10 08 at 4.29.05 PM

This blog post was written by Erica Janicka, Fall 2015 Intern, University of Utah

Of course, less serious students offenses that have been criminalized over time – talking back, missing class, having awesome hairdos - don’t really need formal intervention at all.

But for serious offenses such as fighting, vandalism, and theft, instead of emphasizing police involvement, suspensions and expulsions, Utah should be focusing resources into restorative justice programs.

Restorative justice creates the opportunity for conversation between victims, youth offenders, and the community. The goal is to rehabilitate youth through community involvement and connection with peer groups who hold them accountable for their actions.

Through engaging with community organizations, youth are given a chance to become involved with the community while likely removing them from their source of anxiety.

The greatest challenge to restorative justice is lack of funding. Unfortunately, though numerous restorative justice programs exist in Utah, such as Salt Lake Peer Court, many public schools do not have enough funding to support these programs.

With increased federal or state funding for restorative justice programs, we can expect a rise in children on track to graduation and higher education. Areas around the country with strong restorative justice programs have quickly seen a drop in crime and incarceration rates.

Increased funding to schools for restorative justice programs would mean that young people would be less likely to be funneled into the juvenile justice system for punishment that is not needed (a trend that is three times more likely to effect students of color than their white peers).

By ending “zero tolerance” policies in favor of restorative justice, schools will allow students to stay in the classroom, working for an education that will give them a better chance of staying away from trouble in the future.

Meggie Sorenson, a junior at East High School and two-year mentor for Salt Lake Peer Court said the following about restorative justice programming:

“(It) is a way from me to give back to the community and help kids my age be accountable for what they’ve done and help them grow from the experience. The restorative justice system that Salt Lake Peer Court uses is very effective and beneficial to all the referred youth. I think more people need to know about it because it can help so many people, other than just the youth, grow individually and as a member of our community.”

If restorative justice was better utilized for serious offenses in public junior highs and high schools, students would be able to find the support they need from the community while continuing their education uninterrupted. This is highly preferable to forcing youth to spend time out of the classroom, and potentially push them into the school-to-prison pipeline.

For more information on Salt Lake Peer Court and how you can get involved, visit www.saltlakepeercourt.org. You can also join ACLU of Utah and Salt Lake Peer Court as they participate in the National Week of Action on School Pushout from October 3rd to 11th to learn more about how Utah can redefine discipline policies in schools to support students in their journey through education.

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