What Is Restorative Justice?
KPS Students Use Concepts to Resolve Conflict
By Jacquis Robertson
Executive Director of Dispute Resolution Services, Gryphon Place
Restorative Justice Program Coordinator, Gryphon Place
Restorative justice is, at its root, respect, says Howard Zehr, director emeritus of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice.
“Respect for all, even those who are different from us; even those who seem to be our enemies. Respect reminds us of our interconnectedness, but also of our differences. Respect insists we balance concerns for all parties. If we pursue justice as respect, we will do justice restoratively,” said Zehr, who, as a professor at Eastern Mennonite University, helped form some of the foundational philosophies behind restorative justice.
If you were in conflict with someone, would you find it easier to talk to them and find some level of resolution or not speak to them and hope that the conflict would dissipate? It is, after all, more comfortable just to hope that the conflict goes away. Would you have the courage to own your part of the problem and speak your mind in terms of what needs to be done to make it right? Would you choose this courage over the choice of violence?
Day in and day out in Kalamazoo Public Schools, students are choosing to engage in restorative practices to resolve disputes they have with fellow students.
Gryphon Place is helping students learn about restorative justice and how to use the practices in their classrooms to re - solve disputes.
What is restorative justice and how is it used in schools?
Restorative justice asks three main questions: What happened? Who was affected? What needs to be done to repair the harm that was caused? Restorative justice practices bring people together through a reconciliation process that gives voice to the person harmed. Restorative justice asks, “What is this really about?”
What restorative practices are used at KPS? Restorative conferences are used for conflicts between two to four students. This process is similar to mediation but focuses on how the people in the conflict were affected and on finding an agreement to repair the harm caused.
Community building peace circles are used to promote a healthier classroom climate, to improve connectedness be - tween staff and students and students to one another, and to let each voice be heard.
Peer mediation is used at the elementary school level in some KPS buildings. This pro - gram trains selected youth leaders to act, under the super - vision of a Gryphon Place staff member, as mediators for their fellow students. When no mediations are scheduled, the students complete interactive les - sons designed to improve social and emotional learning.
So far this year in KPS, there have been 137 mediated conferences. Of those mediated cases, 121 came to a positive agreement. There have been 33 peer mediations, with 32 coming to a positive agreement. When asked, 90 percent of students felt they learned a new skill to help with future conflict, and 87 percent reported feeling safer and more engaged in class.
For more information about restorative justice practices, please contact Gryphon Place at (269) 381-1510 ext. 212.