When the phrase ‘School To Prison Pipeline’ is uttered to an average person on the street, most don’t know what it is. In a nutshell, the school-to-prison pipeline starts in the classroom. When combined with zero-tolerance policies, a teacher's decision to refer students for punishment can mean they are pushed out of the classroom—and much more likely to be introduced into the criminal justice system. Basically, kids are being punished for small things in school and are being torn from the classroom and are not given the education they deserve and that increases the likelihood that they will end up in the criminal justice system.
So how does restorative justice play into that? Restorative justice is being introduced to schools throughout the United States and it is slowly starting to show results. Having kids sit down and talk with each other or their teacher or even the principal is proving to work better and faster than suspension or expulsion. In one school in Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood a teacher is implementing restorative justice practices into their classroom. In the article I read about this, the teacher describes that the standard punishment for misbehavior is to send them to the principal to be suspended, but this teacher knew that this kind of punishment would do way more harm than good, so they decided to try out RJ. The teacher then goes on to describe what restorative justice would look like in this student’s case. Basically it would be the teacher, the student, some of the students classmates, and a facilitator sitting in a circle or group and talking through the students actions. Then they would all create a plan that would repair the harm done. If schools around our nation could adopt this kind of mindset instead of zero tolerance, wouldn’t the amount of criminals go down? Wouldn’t our crime rate decrease even more? Wouldn’t mass incarceration slowly decrease? The answer to all of these questions would be yes, in theory. In practice maybe not, but it is a place to start to reform our justice system.
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