Origins of Restorative Practices

Restorative Practices finds its roots in the ancient indigenous societies of the South Pacific and Americas, highlighting the need for the offender to take responsibility and make amends for the damage caused, rather than focusing on the offense itself. A key methodology for interpreting Restorative Practices in criminology is the ‘reintegrative shaming theory’, which underscores the importance of reconciliation and societal reintegration. However, there are potential downsides to using shame as a method of reintegration, particularly within educational settings.

Restorative Practices aim to transition from traditional punitive justice to a system where regulations and rules act as catalysts for safeguarding and fostering relationships. This shift is observable in schools where teachers endeavor to promote a sense of communal responsibility among students. Despite this, many schools persist in following authoritarian disciplinary approaches.

Critics contend that the conventional approach to discipline is preoccupied with behavior management instead of nurturing students’ abilities and promoting their growth. In contrast, Restorative Practices promote fairness, collective decision-making, communal empathy, resilience, and growth, over control and exploitation.

Restorative Practices, while having a solid foundation in the legal system, has seen growing application within educational settings. However, there is stronger empirical support for its use in juvenile justice systems and schools outside the U.S. For instance, New Zealand has incorporated Restorative Practices as a core framework in its juvenile justice system for more than twenty-five years. The earliest utilization of Restorative Practices in the U.S. were in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, and its proven effectiveness has led to a broader application, particularly for nonviolent misdemeanors and juvenile offenses.

In educational settings, Restorative Practices are intended to unite all parties involved, including students, teachers, and parents, to address issues and foster relationships. Existing literature validates the potential of Restorative Practices in creating robust school communities, improving school environments, and reducing behavioral problems. However, numerous schools continue to apply disciplinary approaches that exclude students from decision-making processes and resort to exclusionary discipline for minor behavioral missteps, which can exacerbate issues.

Restorative Practices’ roots in nations outside the U.S., particularly Australia, demonstrate its potential. For example, Australia began using Restorative Practices in school environments in 1994. The initial application yielded promising outcomes, leading to broad adoption across Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Europe, Canada, and eventually, the U.S.

Restorative Practices programs are diverse in their approach and implementation scope. For instance, an Australian school implemented ‘The Responsible Citizenship Program’, which incorporates practices such as conflict resolution and shame management to cultivate a positive school-wide culture.