Starving the Beast: school-based restorative justice and the school-to-prison-pipeline

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National mandates to decrease suspension numbers have prompted school districts across the country to turn to a practice known as restorative justice as an alternative to removing students through suspension

National mandates to decrease suspension numbers have prompted school districts across the country to turn to a practice known as restorative justice as an alternative to removing students through suspension or referral to law enforcement for problematic behavior. This ethnographic case study examines school-based restorative justice programs as potentially disruptive social movements in dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline through participatory analysis of one school’s implementation of Discipline that Restores.

Findings go beyond suspension numbers to discuss the promise inherent in the program’s validation of student lived experience using a disruptive framework within the greater context of the politics of care and the school-to-prison-pipeline. Findings analyze the intersection of race, power, and identity with the experience of care in defining community to illustrate some of the prominent structural impediments that continue to work to cap the program’s disruptive potential. This study argues that restorative justice, through the experience of care, has the potential to act as a disruptive force, but wrestles with the enormity of the larger structural investments required for authentic transformative and disruptive change to occur.

As the restorative justice movement gains steam, on-going critical analysis against a disruptive framework becomes necessary to ensure the future success of restorative discipline in disrupting the school-to-prison-pipeline.