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Restorative Disciplines, Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Studies Reveal...

The effects of discipline on behavior has been a topic of research for decades, from school systems to families and criminal justice systems. data has often supported the fact that punitive discipline leads to a cycle of self sabotaging behaviors and destructive tendencies.

Restorative discipline can be considered the most balanced approach to discipline because it involved all parties with an emphasis on supporting them within a controlled environment.

More specifically and operationally, restorative justice consists of three principles:

(a) relationships and their harms

(b) empowerment of all persons

(c) collaboration

(Song & Swearer,2016).


What are the Basics of Restorative Discipline?

For discipline to be truly restorative it has to involve all three primary stakeholders (person who did harm, person who was harmed, supportive people who care about both) with the sole intention of repairing harm done, and holistic growth for everyone involved, including support persons. Although restorative discipline approaches can be limited to just the parties directly involved, a much more thoughtful analysis and body of evidence suggest the participants should include the following:

Replacing the label "victim" with "initiator" and "perpetrator" with "respondent" is an imperative elevation of terminology. Including Allies in consultation, for both parties, ensure proper support for all people involved, both during and following the consultation. This is especially imperative through the school process.

(Song, 2016)


Studies show that involving all stakeholders is extremely important. There are now about a dozen peer-reviewed studies of varying rigor that have demonstrated positive outcomes for schools (e.g., Gregory, Clawson, Davis, & Gerewitz,2016; Wong, Cheng, Ngan, & Ma, 2011). No action exists in a vacuum, and actions which require discipline can only be rectified if they come to into the light and are examined in a multidimensional method. Much more research is needed in this area, though what we have available indicates the framework for restorative practices relies most heavily on consultation followed by cooperative action. Cooperative action is not limited to action that rights the wrong. Cooperative action should largely include providing guided opportunities to actually build a relationship in the wake of harmful actions. This build-up approach, if used with wisdom, is a proactive method of preventing re-offense.


In consultation, each person has a chance to have their voice heard and jointly develop a repair plan if needed. Additionally, by working together, your focus is on building or restoring relationships and repairing harm done. It is imperative that all sides are heard. Research also shows that through the process of verbalizing harmful behavior, a person is able to better examine their own actions and intentions (Song 2020) .


Restorative practices exists across a continuum. There’s a range of ways you can implement restorative discipline, depending on the severity of the action. You can use smaller impromptu conferences for less formal interactions, or restorative circles / conferences for more formal interactions.


As you go right on the continuum towards more formal interactions, you’ll involve more and more people in your procedure. That’s why it’s important to understand the process for facilitating restorative discipline circles.


Proactive and Reactive Restorative Discipline

It’s also important to note that you don’t have to use restorative discipline as a reactive process. In fact, it’s more beneficial as a whole to use the processes of restorative discipline in both proactive and reactive ways. Harmful behaviors are rarely a one time incident, they are more likely to be re-occuring personal or group patterns. Observing interactions over a period of time allows for comprehensive understanding, ongoing balanced consultation and preventative action that supports pro-social behavior in restorative way by proactively meeting the needs of a group or individual. Specifically, cultural misunderstandings that result in harmful words or behavior can be prevented or rectified with sustained restorative approaches that repair prejudice by building relationships based on guided personal interactions.


In conclusion, there is much research needed in the area of RjP, more small sample groups of schools would be ideal for completing the research over an extended period of time. Small groups would allow for measured and observational research following consultative action and pro-active approaches to repairing and building relationships. An evolution of behavior and conflict resolution could yield hopeful practices that could actually revolutionize life long behavior patterns and contribute to a more compassionate and emotionally intelligent society.



Samuel Y. Song & Susan M. Swearer(2016)The Cart Before the Horse: The Challenge and Promise of Restorative Justice Consultation in Schools,Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation,26:4,313-324,DOI: 10.1080/10474412.2016.1246972


Samuel Y. Song, Jacqueline M. Eddy, Heather M. Thompson, Brian Adams & Jennifer Beskow(2020)Restorative Consultation in Schools: A Systematic Review and Call for Restorative Justice Science to Promote Anti-Racism and Social Justice,Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation,30:4,462-476,DOI: 10.1080/10474412.2020.1819298



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