Recently released data from the 2013-14 school year reveals that suspension and expulsion rates throughout California public schools continue to decline. This is the second year in a row that rates of suspensions and expulsions have dropped across the state. The report, released by the California Department of Education (CDE), notes that this downward trend has correlated with the implementation of innovative and non-punitive responses to classroom rule breaking. Such responses include the development and broad utilization of restorative justice programs. Lisa Schmidt--a juvenile defense attorney who represents youth in suspension and expulsion hearings--contends that the results presented in the CDE report have implications that extend far beyond student discipline. For example, Schmidt highlights that schools with restorative justice programs not only report lower rates of suspension and expulsion, they also report marked improvements in other areas including graduation rates, absenteeism, and literacy.
Schmidt goes on to say that the efficacy of restorative justice programs lies in the core assumption that students’ problem behavior can be positively changed: “...restorative justice doesn’t simply remove a problem from the classroom. Instead it uses misbehavior as a learning opportunity, teaching students the consequences of their actions and how to make better choices”.
Implications for Domestic Violence Intervention
Here at the Center on Violence and Recovery (CVR) we remain committed to the idea that the theory of restorative justice (RJ) offers victims of violence and trauma efficacious ways of ending the violence that has plagued their lives. This includes victims of domestic and intimate partner violence. We are inspired by the diligent work of teachers, parents, and students in public schools across the nation who have fought back against punitive responses to school-based behavior infractions--responses which have wholly failed to address the identified problem behavior. The data released by the CDE should motivate all those who are passionate about the development of more effective and victim-centered responses to crime and wrongdoing.
CVR strongly believes that RJ theory and practice, when used properly, can increase victim safety, help survivors heal, and ultimately decrease rates of repeat incidents of domestic violence. In addition to working with survivors around their identified needs, RJ offers the potential to intervene with perpetrators in a meaningful way by holding offenders accountable for their actions and teaching alternatives to violent and aggressive behavior.
Our belief in RJ as a DV intervention stems from the encouraging research results of CVR’s National Science Foundation funded-study which indicated that RJ-based interventions for domestic violence can be both safe and effective with regards to preventing future violent incidents (Mills, Barocas, & Ariel, 2012). Published in 2012, the research found that when compared to offenders who had undergone treatment in a traditional batterer intervention program, offenders who in the RJ-based model, recidivated at significantly lower rates 12-months post random assignment. This research is currently being replicated in Salt Lake City, UT.
Coupled with the growing support that restorative justice programs are receiving in schools across the nation to deal with problematic, defiant, and sometimes violent behavior, these findings provide victims and advocates alike tangible hope for a violence-free future.
For more information on the exciting and innovative research work underway at CVR, please visit our website here
Full citation for the Center's 2012 study: The next generation of court-mandated domestic violence treatment: A comparison study of batterer intervention and restorative justice programs. Journal of Experimental Criminology 9(1) DOI: 10.1007/s11292-012-9164-x