Everyone comes to Restorative Justice/Practices by a unique route. Here’s my story:
For 20-plus years I’ve been visiting schools – as an education journalist, a Providence School Board member and a mom of public school kids. It’s always seemed obvious that improving the mental and social health of everyone involved would improve just about everything else about schools — from disruptive behavior and chronic absenteeism to poor test scores. So I’d been on the alert for that magic ingredient that would strengthen relationships and help school communities manage conflict. The solutions that did emerge were all programs, add-ons. They focused on changing kids’ behavior without much attention to how the adults affected school culture. Each was a budget line-item begging to be cut. Ultimately each was only nominally helpful, leaving kids to become increasingly alienated – from learning, from adults and their communities, even from each other. Then, a 2007 trip to Northern Ireland introduced me to Restorative Justice. Literally every Belfast native I talked to, including hotel staff and taxi drivers, worried that if their country couldn’t shift to a more Restorative mindset, their punitive, angry culture would blow up into the violence of the “Troubles” all over again. Apparently the Restorative movement had been going viral internationally, but who knew? I’d seen nothing of it in the US. On my last night there, Dr. Donald Shriver give a lecture that rocked my world. An accomplished mediator who’d worked on the post-apartheid South African Reconciliation Commission, Shriver told powerful, riveting stories about using the Restorative tools to guide difficult, enraging conflicts into a collective vision all the parties could live with. Surely schools could use these same practices as their everyday way of building interpersonal connection, cultivating empathy and handling issues that arise among angry or disaffected kids and adults. If misbehavior is really only a symptom of issues with deeper roots, no wonder punitive responses only seem to make things worse — at home, school, justice systems, playgrounds, literally anywhere. I returned from Ireland and soaked up all the training and research I could find on Restoration. The benefits of shifting from punitive to restorative seemed painfully obvious, but in reality it’s a huge lift. In 2009 Dr. Fran Gallo, a visionary Superintendent asked if RP could be piloted in her district, Central Falls. The work gained enough ground that in 2015, the Central Falls School District, YRP and two research organizations received a $3.68 million federal grant to implement a conferencing program at 6 secondary schools. Family Service of Rhode Island helped us assemble and manage what is now a team of 10. And the Sargent Center reached out to partner with us on a credentialing program for anyone in the state who is interested. Restorative Practices/Justice is a mindset, not a mechanical fix. Its simple, sandbox-level tools can heal alienation, restore human connection and reknit the frayed fabric of community. My personal goal is to develop the conditions whereby every one of Rhode Island’s 200,000 children is handled restoratively. The Youth Restoration Project’s goal is to grow a statewide community of Restorative Practitioners who can so effectively teach, practice and model Restoration’s tools, Rhode Island can become a Restorative state. Of course we’ll engage with anyone interested in this work. Please come join us.
With Love & Sincerity,