Reclaiming Futures: Can restorative justice plug America’s school-to-prison pipeline?

Growing up, Cameron Simmons endured a gauntlet of school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests that could have easily condemned him to a life behind bars or even to an early violent death–the present lot of many of his childhood friends.

But things turned around for Cameron in the 12th grade, when he found himself at the doorstep of a restorative justice school in West Oakland, California.

Cameron’s story is one among many. Parallel with the rise of the prison industrial complex over the last two decades, our nation’s schools have been criminalizing our children instead of educating them. Use of exclusionary school discipline has doubled during this period, and for youth of color, the use of suspensions has grown 11 times faster than for their white counterparts.

With the growing presence of metal detectors, wand searches, police, and wider use of suspensions and school-based arrests, our schools have been “prisonized”. Normal adolescent behavior–like Cameron’s milk fight in the cafeteria or cursing a teacher–is criminalized as assault. Writing on a desk with erasable ink becomes defacing public property. Even a 6-year-old having a temper tantrum is placed in handcuffs and escorted from the classroom by the police.

Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) launched California’s first urban school-based restorative justice pilot at a middle school in 2007, reducing suspension rates by 87 percent, eradicating violence and teacher attrition, and improving academic outcomes. These successes led the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to adopt restorative justice as official policy in 2010, and take steps to make restorative justice schools the norm for all children.

Today, restorative justice is in almost 30 Oakland schools, with a growing infrastructure of staff at the district and school site levels. OUSD recently announced it would allocate $2.3 million to further expand restorative justice practices next year.

See full article & photo credit.

You must be logged in to post a comment