Restorative Justice 101: Implementing Restorative Programs & Measuring Effectiveness – University of San Diego - Professional & Continuing Education (2023)

Restorative Justice 101: Implementing Restorative Programs & Measuring Effectiveness – University of San Diego - Professional & Continuing Education (1)

Educators are always trying to find innovative and effective ways to reach students academically, socially, and emotionally. And while discipline issues are part of a school environment, how they are handled can greatly impact these aforementioned factors, as well as the attitudes of students and the overall community.

Traditionally, the response to disruptive behavior has been punitive, with the level of punishment increasing with each subsequent “offense.” But what many educators – and society, for that matter – have found is that punishment does not deter these behaviors, and the cycle continues. A highly effective methodology now being used in schools is known as restorative justice, and it’s revolutionizing the way behavior is addressed in the modern education system.

What is Restorative Justice in Schools?

Inspired by ancient practices and values, restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes that strong positive relationships are the foundation of a thriving community. When harm happens all affected by wrongdoing are called to address needs and responsibilities, and to heal the harm to relationships as much as possible. These principles are being applied to workplaces, the justice system and, of course, schools.

Restorative justice in schools is both a philosophy and set of principles and practices that support educators and students in building strong relationships and addressing harmful incidences. RJP does this by supplementing or replacing traditional punitive measures and engaging all parties involved to work together to assess the problem and what caused it, determine fair repercussions or next steps, and determine ways to improve the student’s behavior and prevent future incidents. An EdWeek article outlined the primary aspects of restorative justice programs in practice:

(Video) Designing Restorative Justice Courses: Incorporating Theory, Research & Skills

  1. All involved parties discuss the incident in question.
  2. The person impacted by harm will be given the opportunity to share their feelings, as will the accused. Restorative practices must provide equal time to each party as the primary goal is not punishment, but restoration.
  3. Teachers/administrators will act as facilitators to the mediation, asking open-ended questions in an effort to foster reflection. These group meetings are known as restorative conferences or circles and are central to restorative justice practices.
  4. Questions posed to students are often; What happened? How were people impacted? What are their needs? What can be done to meet their needs and make things right?
  5. All involved parties decide on a course of action, and all parties work together to carry out that plan.

Community Involvement in Restorative Schools

Restorative justice programs aim to find the root cause of a student’s behavior, seek out tools to remedy these issues, and foster positive relationships that decrease the likelihood of reoccurrence. To achieve these goals and ensure participation from all parties, everyone in the school community has a role in fostering a restorative learning environment and hold individuals accountable.

The primary focus of restorative justice is on relationships, with the idea that by working together and investing time in proactive relationships as a school community, teacher-student and student-student relationships can be repaired and strengthened. Many schools are seeing great results – a recent study concluded that RJ programs can improve school climates and reduce student misbehavior and school discipline.

What Are Circles?

There are many models of restorative justice programs, but a central piece of any restorative practice in the classroom involves circles. The inspiration for circles comes from indigenous practices that invite everyone in a community to sit together in a circle to build community and work through problems as a cohesive unit to foster inclusions, support and healing.

Restorative justice in schools uses circles similarly, with the goal of building a community as a preventative tactic. Through circles, classroom communities can build class norms and expectations to create productive learning environments. Teachers (facilitators) lead students in circles of sharing, where they are free and safe to open up about their goals, fears or any other relevant topic. This is designed to build rapport amongst students, create a shared sense of trust and gives students the responsibility of helping to create the environment they will learn in.

Circles also come into play when a student acts out or an incident occurs. The parties involved and a teacher/facilitator will meet in a circle to:

(Video) Equity-Oriented Restorative Justice Tools for Schools

  • Discuss what happened
  • Address the harm, victim’s needs and cause of the conflict
  • Determine acceptable outcomes
  • Carry out the plans of action

Because students are directly involved in every aspect of the mediation, including discussion and the plan of action, they are more likely to feel respected and invested in the restorative justice approach.

Restorative Justice vs. Current Misconduct Handling Structure in K-12 Schools

The following offers an example of potential student outcomes in a traditional punishment structure when compared to a school utilizing Restorative Justice.

The school security guard breaks it up and the students are sent to the principal’s office for punishment. Brad is shoved in the hallway and a scene ensues Students and teachers intervene, de-escalates the situation and a time to meet is scheduled for that day.
Brad is suspended for 3 days and will have to serve detention when he returns to school. Brad learns his fate Facilitators, Brad, and the other student meet in a restorative justice circle to discuss the fight, come to find it was a misunderstanding and each student agrees to write a letter of apology
Brad isn’t in school, missing out on valuable learning opportunities and a scheduled session with a tutor. The next day … Brad meets with his tutor, gets helo on an assignment he’s struggled with and is more invested in the restorative school community.

Restorative Justice Example Scenario: K-12 Setting

The following is an example of a real incident where restorative justice practices were effectively used, as documented in a University of San Diego case study.


At a high school in San Diego, two students were involved in a fight based on their distinct racial backgrounds. There wasn’t a long history of conflict between them but one day Alex, a Latino student, called Josh the ‘N’ word as he passed by. Josh confronted him and they ended up going to the bathroom. Alex threw the first punch and then Josh punched him back. Alex fell; while he was trying to get back up, he hit his head on a metal towel rack and he cut his head. Josh´s punch gave Alex a concussion. Josh ran away leaving Alex dizzy and bleeding in the bathroom. Whereas Alex initiated the fight, Josh caused the most physical harm. Some of Alex’s injuries were not Josh’s fault. Josh and Alex were both impacted by harm and responsible for harm. The high school authorities decided to expel Josh from school that day of the fight. San Diego Unified proposed a restorative conference as an alternative to a high-level expulsion.

(Video) Conversations Webinar: The Just Campus

Restorative Process

The facilitators contacted the students involved and asked them who should participate in the conference. Those in attendance the day of the conference included Alex´s parents, Josh´s mother, a friend of Alex, and a friend of Josh, a teacher that both of them trusted, the school’s counselor, the Vice Principal President (VP), and the two facilitators. The facilitators met individually with each person before the conference to prepare them to discuss the individual harms, the broader impact of the fight, and how they would want to move forward. The conference lasted ninety minutes.

Flowers and stuffed animals related to the school’s mascot comprised the centerpiece of the circle. The introductory question was a one-word check-in. Following the check-in round, Josh took responsibility for the harms he had caused. Next, Alex took responsibility for the harms he caused. The facilitators provided time for both Josh and Alex to reflect on the words they said to one another. Alex was remorseful. It was hard for him to recount the incident in front of his loved ones. Josh took responsibility for the harms he caused and shared his journey suffering racism on a regular basis. Then, the facilitators asked parents, friends, the teacher, the counselor, and the Vice Principal to share the impact the fight had from their perspective. The counselor and the teacher supported Alex and Josh as they processed the larger context of racism surrounding the conflict. According to the teacher and counselor, although the students made wrong choices on the day of the fight, they demonstrated good behavior on other occasions. The facilitators concluded the conference by asking the participants how they wish to move forward.

In the beginning, Alex’s parents were very upset. They didn´t want Josh to come back to school and wanted a refund for the medical bills. However, by the end of the conference, Alex’s parents developed a sense of empathy for Josh and his mother. Further, while initially skeptical of the process of hosting a restorative conference in place of relying on traditional forms of punishment, the Vice Principal was impressed when Alex´s parents requested that Josh returned to school immediately.


(Video) When the Practice Pivoted – Restorative Justice in a Virtual World

  • Josh returned to school.
  • Josh and Alex committed to having one on one sessions with the counselor to follow-up on the harms shared during the conference.
  • Josh and Alex prepared an assembly to share with the larger student body the restorative process they went through, what they’re doing to hold each other accountable, and what they’ve learned.
  • Josh and Alex organized a series of speakers from the community to talk about racism and race relations.
  • Josh and Alex, with the school support, organized a trip to the San Diego Museum of Man to continue learning about race.

What is a Restorative Justice Coordinator?

Transitioning to a Restorative Justice model is not an overnight process. To help make the evolution more seamless, many schools opt to hire a restorative justice coordinator. These trained professionals help facilitate every part of the restorative program changeover, which may include:

  • Assess current school discipline practices and what the school needs are.
  • Engage the entire school – students, teachers, admins, parents, the community – in discussions about restorative justice to foster buy-in from all parties.
  • Develop a committee made up of representatives from each school group to help develop a collaborative action plan.
  • Begin training small groups from within the school community.
  • Roll out schoolwide restorative justice programs and practices.
  • Nurture restorative practices in the classroom and overall school community by evaluating outcomes and feedback.

Restorative Justice Training for Educators

With restorative justice training for educators – either within their school as it implements restorative justice or on their own in a continuing education program – teachers can expect to become facilitators of such programs and advocates for its benefits. What’s more, teachers can also expect to learn how to:

  • Understand the philosophy and practice of restorative justice from an ethical and philosophical consideration of the goals and consequences of various approaches to punishment
  • Distinguish various applications of restorative justice from a cross-cultural perspective
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the research on restorative justice including the criteria used for assessment of restorative programs
  • Assess the strategies and effectiveness of restorative justice implementation through critical assessment of grassroots (bottom-up) and administrative (top-down) initiatives
  • Understand the relationship between theory and practice of restorative justice
  • Distinguish and apply various restorative practices, especially circles and conferencing
  • Demonstrate competence in restorative process from pre-dialogue preparation to dialogue facilitation to post-dialogue mentoring and support
  • Develop strong commitment to facilitator self-reflection and co-facilitator debriefing and support for ongoing skill development
  • Create a community of practice for continued learning
  • Practice the tenets of restorative leadership and consider one’s role with the larger restorative justice movement

How to Evaluate Restorative Justice’s Impact in Schools

The impact of restorative justice programs may not be immediately evident, but there are certain hallmarks of Restorative Justice program effectiveness and steps you can take to increase the odds of success. The state of Illinois has a restorative justice implementation checklist they share to help streamline onboarding schools into restorative justice programs. Some examples of their must-complete tasks include:

  • School disciplinary policy describes process for classroom incidents in which the student is not responsive to the Restorative Conversation.
  • School has clear definitions for behaviors that interfere with academic and social success.
  • All teachers, support staff and administrators receive ongoing professional development in use of restorative practices.

Following implementation, it is common practice for schools and school administrators to survey all participants to gauge the effectiveness of restorative justice programs. Some common survey questions to pose to teachers, students and others following program implementation include:

  • Do they feel a greater sense of safety?
  • An increased sense of belonging?
  • Are relationships better among students and between students and adults?
  • What about between the school, parents and community?

In addition to surveys, it is critical that schools keep comprehensive records of student attendance, discipline, instances of repeat offenses and behavior related to student-student and student-teacher relationships. Only in comparing those outcomes to data from years prior will schools see the true effectiveness and success of their restorative justice programs.

(Video) [Webinar] Restorative Practices: The Game Changer for Accountability

For school officials interested in becoming certified in restorative justice practices or bringing these programs to their school, consider getting a certificate in Restorative Justice Facilitation and Leadership from the University of San Diego. Our online program is designed for educators who want to become leaders in restorative justice programs, practitioners of restorative programs or just more knowledgeable on the subject. Please contact us to learn more about our online restorative justice training.


What are the five types of restorative justice programs? ›

Some of the most common programs typically associated with restorative justice are mediation and conflict-resolution programs, family group conferences, victim-impact panels, victim–offender mediation, circle sentencing, and community reparative boards.

What are the three pillars of restorative justice? ›

The authors define three pillars of restorative justice: recognizing and addressing the harms and needs of each stakeholder, fulfilling obligations to right the wrong, and engaging the immediate parties and the community.

What criticisms have been made of restorative justice programs? ›

Nine Criticisms of School Restorative Justice
  • It takes too long. ...
  • It is too emotionally draining. ...
  • Teachers should be teaching, not doing, RJ. ...
  • Restorative justice doesn't have accountability. ...
  • Agreements made in restorative processes are not followed. ...
  • Restorative justice doesn't work.
Mar 7, 2019

What are the 6 restorative principles? ›

Guidance: The six principles of restorative practice set out the core values of the field of restorative practice. They cover the following areas: restoration, voluntarism, neutrality, safety, accessibility and respect.

What are the four 4 key of the restorative program? ›

As a treatment model, it includes four (4) categories, namely, behavior management, intellectual/spiritual aspect, emotional and social aspects, and vocational/survival aspects.

What are the two most popular restorative justice strategies? ›

Common Restorative Justice Practices
  • Victim Offender Mediation: Typically used with victims and offenders of property crimes and minor assaults. ...
  • Restorative Community Conferencing or Family Group Conferencing: Routinely involves support persons for both victims and offenders, as well as community participants.
Oct 12, 2022

What is the most popular model of restorative justice? ›

Victim-offender mediation, also known as victim-offender dialogue, victim-offender conferencing or victim-offender reconciliation programme, emerged in the 1970s and is one of the most widely used restorative justice models in the criminal justice system (see for victim-offender mediation in Europe, Dünkel et al., 2015 ...

Who is the father of restorative justice? ›

The Process of Restorative Justice

According to Howard Zehr, a recognized founding father of restorative justice, the concept is based on three pillars: Harms and needs. Obligation (to put right)

What is the most important part of restorative justice? ›

Rather than justice as “punishment,” restorative justice conceives of justice as “repair” to the harm caused by crime and conflict. Understanding and responding to the needs of each involved party and the broader community is central to the collective creation of a just outcome.

What is the key focus and goal of restorative justice? ›

Restorative justice refers to “an approach to justice that seeks to repair harm by providing an opportunity for those harmed and those who take responsibility for the harm to communicate about and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.”

What are three criticisms of restorative justice? ›

restorative justice erodes legal rights; restorative justice results in net-widening; restorative justice trivializes crime (particularly men's violence against women); restorative justice fails to "restore" victims and offenders; restorative justice fails to effect real change and to prevent recidivism; restorative ...

What offenses does restorative justice work best? ›

Restorative justice can potentially be used for any type of crime. It can help victims of low level crime and people who have experienced the most serious offences. There are certain offences which can pose particular challenges for the restorative process, for example sexual offences, hate crime and domestic violence.

Who benefits most from restorative justice? ›

Benefits to people who offend

People who offend have the opportunity to express remorse and apologize for their actions, benefiting themselves as well as their victims. A way to put the incident behind them. People who offend have the opportunity to make significant and appropriate amends and then move on.

What is restorative justice in real life examples? ›

5 Examples of Restorative Justice
  • Victim assistance. Victim assistance, as the name implies, focuses on the victims and survivors of crime. ...
  • Community service. When someone commits a crime, they are harming the victims and the community as a whole. ...
  • Victim-offender mediation. ...
  • Peacemaking circles. ...
  • Family group conferencing.

What is an example of restorative practice? ›

Popular examples of restorative processes include affective statements, community-building circles, small impromptu conferencing, and setting classroom agreements or norms.

What is an example of restorative in school? ›

Verbally apologize to the teacher and fellow students with a promise to contribute more positively in the future. Request that peers hold him/her accountable. Spend a week assisting the teacher with classroom supervision or clean-up. Bullying younger students Sent to in-school suspension; have privileges removed.

What is the difference between restorative practice and restorative justice? ›

The simplest way to understand it is that restorative practices involves a continuum of interventions and strategies that are both proactive and responsive. Restorative Justice is ultimately a subset of restorative practices and is primarily only responsive in nature.

What are the 5 basic principles? ›

United States and the Five Basic Principles In ethics there are five basic principles and they are the value of life principle, the principle of goodness or rightness, the principle of justice or fairness, the principle of truth telling or honesty, and the principle of individual freedom.

Is restorative justice the same as mediation? ›

In restorative justice focuses on repairing whereas in mediation the focus is on solving the dispute . In restorative justice the significant amount of interview is taken from victim , offender and the people impacted from the offence. In mediation it is not mandatory to take the interview.

What is the main purpose of a restorative care program? ›

The purpose of Restorative Nursing Programs is to increase the patients' independence, promote safety, preserve function, increase self esteem, promote improvement in function and minimize deterioration. Specific patient goals, objectives and interventions need to be measurable.

What are the disadvantages of restorative justice in schools? ›

Nine Criticisms of School Restorative Justice
  • It takes too long. ...
  • It is too emotionally draining. ...
  • Teachers should be teaching, not doing, RJ. ...
  • Restorative justice doesn't have accountability. ...
  • Agreements made in restorative processes are not followed. ...
  • Restorative justice doesn't work.
Mar 7, 2019

Who is the primary focus in restorative justice? ›

This implies a primary focus on offender restitution, through money and services, to victims and the community. Underlying the practice of restitution is the aim to achieve healing for the harm done and responsibilities breached. Society rarely achieves justice that is fully restorative.

Is restorative justice liberal? ›

The increasingly popular concept of restorative justice is receiving support from both conservatives and liberals, although considering the approach presents two types of problems.

How does restorative justice work in schools? ›

Restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups, and it's a growing practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions, and air their grievances.

Is restorative justice biblical? ›

Biblical justice includes retributive components, but it cannot be ade- quately characterized principally as retributive justice. It is better described as a relational or restorative justice. The fundamentally restorative character of biblical justice is evident at four main levels of the biblical material.

Is restorative justice Catholic? ›

Restorative justice is a philosophy or approach to harm that focuses on repairing relationships and is consistent with Catholic teaching. Restorative practices can be applied in various types of ministry to the incarcerated as well as individuals and communities harmed by crime.

What is restorative justice religion? ›

At a personal level, restorative justice involves becoming the people that our faith traditions encourage us to be. It encourages the development of empathy and understanding, as well as a greater sense of how all people are connected.

Does restorative justice go on your record? ›

An acceptance of restorative justice is often disclosed on enhanced criminal record checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service. Unfortunately, you have little control over how it will appear on your criminal record, therefore when considering whether to accept restorative justice, you should always seek legal advice.

Is restorative justice better than criminal justice? ›

Restorative justice can be a much more humane method of dealing with crime, and it opens the door to healing in a way punitive systems do not. It can also be effective. Studies have shown that restorative justice can lead to: Substantially reduced repeat offending for some offenders.

What is one of the main benefits of restorative justice programs? ›

- To understand the crime and how it had an impact on the victim and others. - To develop an understanding of the causes and consequences of their behavior. - To make amends with the victim directly and explore ways on how to take responsibility for their actions in a meaningful way.

What is another word for restorative justice? ›

Restorative justice (sometimes known in these contexts as circle justice) continues to be a feature of indigenous justice systems today.

Is restorative justice the same as punitive justice? ›

While traditional punitive justice (PJ) sees punishment as a way to deter misconduct and change behavior, restorative justice (RJ) recognizes that punishment alone does nothing to address the disruption to the community and relationships.

What is the opposite of restorative justice? ›

Retributive justice essentially refers to the repair of justice through unilateral imposition of punishment, whereas restorative justice means the repair of justice through reaffirming a shared value-consensus in a bilateral process.

How does restorative justice fail? ›

Restorative justice programs often fail due to a lack of consistent personnel in the schools. A controversial issue, restorative justice programs are liable to lose grant funding, depending on changing leaders. It will take fundamental commitment and focus to reform how punishment is meted out in our schools.

What types of crimes are restorative justice? ›

Restorative justice can be used in all types of cases: from petty crimes and misdemeanors to sex offenses, domestic violence and murder. In cases where the likelihood of being retraumatized is an issue, surrogate victims can be used.

Can restorative justice work for all crimes? ›

However, a restorative justice process can potentially be used for any crime in which harm has occurred, and where the victim would like an opportunity to be heard, to have questions answered, or to seek restitution.

For which type of crime would restorative justice not be an option? ›

Generally, the conversation about which cases should not be referred to restorative justice quickly turns to the crimes considered more severe or complicated such as sexual assault, domestic violence, or murder.

Why do people want restorative justice? ›

Restorative Justice can restore some peace to communities after terrible things have happened. It can also have other consequences in the reduction of imprisonment, preventing re-offending and better outcomes for victims.

How successful are restorative justice programs? ›

Based on 46 studies with nearly 23,000 participants, restorative justice programs, on average, were associated with a decrease of three percent in recidivism.

Does restorative justice save money? ›

This project represents an innovative approach to evidencing the value of Restorative Justice, and our findings are a clear demonstration that Restorative Justice can reduce reoffending and save money as well as helping victims to recover.

What are the 5 R's of conflict resolution? ›

The 5 R's include relationship, respect, responsibility, repair and reintegration. As this article points out, at the heart of every restorative process is a damaged relationship between the person who caused a harm, the recipient of the harm, and the community in which the harm was felt.

What are the basic elements of restorative justice? ›

The client-offender should be accountable to correct his or her mistake, and restitute whatever damages were inflicted (accountability). The victim has to be compensated and be empowered again (competency development). The community and its inhabitants deserve an orderly and peaceful society (public safety).

What are the steps to restorative justice? ›

Restorative Practices: Seven Steps for Facilitators and Mediators
  1. Step 1: Explain the Process. ...
  2. Step 2: Build Empathy. ...
  3. Step 3: Grounding Exercise. ...
  4. Step 4: Start the Conversation. ...
  5. Step 5: Paraphrasing and Guided Apology.
  6. Step 6: The Other Participant Gets to Go. ...
  7. Step 7: Conclude the Conversation.
Oct 27, 2020

What is the difference between restorative justice and restorative practices? ›

The simplest way to understand it is that restorative practices involves a continuum of interventions and strategies that are both proactive and responsive. Restorative Justice is ultimately a subset of restorative practices and is primarily only responsive in nature.

What are the 3 C's for resolving a conflict? ›

Balancing the 3 C's: Communication, Conflict Resolution and Commitment.

What are the 4 basic strategies for resolving conflicts? ›

4 steps To resolve Conflict: CARE
  • Communicate. Open communication is key in a dispute. ...
  • Actively Listen. Listen to what the other person has to say, without interrupting. ...
  • Review Options. Talk over the options, looking for solutions that benefit everyone. ...
  • End with a Win-Win Solution.
Mar 13, 2017

What are the four C's of conflict? ›

When it comes to managing conflict remotely, there are four C's that matter: Commitment, Communication, Conflict Resolution, and Camaraderie in a framework developed by attorney, mediator, negotiator and conflict resolution expert Damali Peterman.

What crimes does restorative justice not work for? ›

Restorative justice can potentially be used for any type of crime. It can help victims of low level crime and people who have experienced the most serious offences. There are certain offences which can pose particular challenges for the restorative process, for example sexual offences, hate crime and domestic violence.

What does restorative justice teach you? ›

It focuses on repairing harm through inclusive processes that bring together students and educators. The intention of restorative justice is to shift the focus of student discipline from punishment to reflecting learning. It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and facilitating dialogue between affected parties.

What are examples of restorative practices? ›

The Restorative Practices Guide from the Schott Foundation lists some examples of restorative practices: restorative justice, community conferencing, community service, peer juries, circle processes, preventative and post-conflict resolution programs, peer mediation, informal restorative practices, and social-emotional ...


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