Zero Tolerance Policies and Recommends Restorative Justice
By Doug Graves and Laura Mirsky
Zero tolerance-based punishments such as suspension and expulsion, the task force found, have not improved behavior or academic performance. In addition, by shifting the locus of discipline from schools to the juvenile justice system, zero tolerance policies are causing numerous adverse consequences for students, families and communities.
Zero tolerance policies requiring suspension from school were found to be counterproductive on many levels: ‘School suspension in general appears to predict higher future rates of misbehavior and suspension among those students who are suspended.’
Schools with higher rates of school suspension and expulsion had less satisfactory school climate ratings and school governance structures, and tended to spend a disproportionate amount of time on discipline. In the long term, school suspension and expulsion were associated with a higher school-dropout rate and failure to graduate on time.
As to academic performance, the report saw ‘a negative relationship between the use of school suspension and expulsion and school-wide academic achievement.’
The report defines restorative justice (RJ) as ‘a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior.’ RJ programs, the report states, ‘involve a cooperative process that 1) identifies crime and attempts to repair its damage, 2) includes all stakeholders to respond to acts of violence and 3) changes the traditional relationship between the offenders and the victims.’ In contrast to zero tolerance policies, RJ is ‘designed to reconcile the perpetrators with the victims, creating a feeling of resolution and increasing a sense of safety.’
‘Restorative justice programs attempt to re-establish positive relationships with adults and ‘teach’ understanding and empathy to those who have been violent,’ the report commented, adding, ‘Restorative and community justice programs in the school setting prioritize activities that try to reduce delinquency and find solutions to delinquent behavior and build a community capacity to respond to problem behavior without resorting to the criminal justice system and to create a safe and supportive learning environment that effectively expresses the values of the culture.’ The report concluded, ‘Emerging data suggest that restorative justice programs may represent a promising alternative to zero tolerance.’