Black Boys in Crisis: Restorative Justice Works

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

It’s important to understand that the problematic behavior students demonstrate in school is rooted in what is happening in their lives outside the school walls. Therefore, reactions should not be to push children back out into that environment and expect them to fend for themselves. If you do, you are punishing the child for something that they have no control and exacerbating their problems. So what should schools do instead?

A restorative justice approach that rehabilitates offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large can go a long way towards keeping kids in class and out of the criminal justice system. This does not have to happen exclusively in classrooms all the time though. Community outreach programs that embrace youth and teach them peace-making resolution strategies can improve the overall outcome for these students. It is important to note that many of these community outreach programs have had a positive impact on their participants and helped them to break the cycle of poverty, violence, and recidivism that has plagued their families for generations.

One organization that is implementing a restorative justice approach is the Community Organizing and Family Issues Peace Center on the north side of Chicago. The program is designed for older youth and is run from the public Wells Community Academy High School. The initiative taps parent facilitators who help students work through conflict resolution tactics. Students can ask to join the group or are referred by teachers based on behavior or at-risk status. This program is used instead of immediate suspensions or removal by law enforcement. An analysis of the program by Roosevelt University found that the students who participated in the program saw more success academically and attendance-wise.

By working directly with students and teaching them how to work through conflict – and not simply removing them from it – restorative justice approaches teach life skills that are imperative to long-term peaceful members of society. Schools should work with community groups to enact programs like the Peace Center to keep students in classrooms but with better coping skills.

What do you think? Is restorative justice capable of ending the black boy crisis?


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