Restorative Justice (RJ) is a philosophy of human interaction which operates on the principle that people are connected through relationships, and that building, maintaining, and restoring those relationships will foster healthy communities. Common elements of a restorative philosophy include community building through strengthening relationships and conflict resolution through communication and taking responsibility for harm caused. A circle process is commonly associated with restorative community building and repairing harm. While the origin of RJ is cited in various indigenous cultures (Fronius et al., 2019; Tauri, 2018), modern applications derived from the 1970s as an alternative or supplement to traditional forms of criminal justice (Zehr, 2014), and have been adopted in over 100 countries (Van Ness, 2005). In contrast to traditional forms of criminal justice, RJ focuses on repairing relationships rather than punishment of offenders (McCluskey, 2018; Zehr, 2014). This process typically involves bringing together multiple parties affected by harm including the responsible party or person(s) causing the harm, the victim or person(s) harmed, and any bystanders or community members affected by the harm (O’Connell, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 1999). The RJ philosophy applies to education by prioritising school climate and community over top-down control (Vaandering, 2010), addressing school discipline by involving students in repairing harm and reintegration (Fronius et al., 2019), and promoting equity (Evans & Vaandering, 2016; Davis, Lyubansky, & Schiff, 2015).
RJ is becoming more common in schools as a means to reduce disproportionate exclusionary discipline rates and harsh, ineffective zero-tolerance discipline policies (Fronius et al., 2019). Its increasing use is driven by the accumulating evidence that exclusionary punishment in education, including suspensions and expulsions, is associated with negative student outcomes, such as increased likelihood of dropout and involvement in the juvenile justice system (e.g., Fabelo et al., 2011). Schools are also adopting RJ as a means to reduce the racial and gender disparities in exclusionary discipline (United States Department of Education, 2014; Gregory & Fergus, 2017). In this article, we introduce RJ in education through a brief summary of the history of RJ, elements of RJ in education, RJ and social emotional learning (SEL), and RJ as a tool for equity.
RJ in the context of education is also referred to as restorative practices, restorative justice practices, or restorative discipline. Some practitioners and scholars emphasise ‘practices’ given community- and relationship-building goes beyond responses to discipline infractions (Wachtel, 2016). Other practitioners and scholars emphasise ‘justice’ given the desire to emphasise fairness and equality in light of historical harms experienced by marginalised groups (Evans & Vaandering, 2016). Still other scholars distinguish the terms as restorative ‘justice’ referring to the philosophy, while restorative ‘practices’ are the tools or protocols used to implement restorative philosophy (Evans & Vaandering, 2016). While there is debate in the field as to preferred terminology, in this case we use RJ to refer to the restorative philosophy, particularly in education contexts.