Restorative Justice – the future – in schools and society.

When I was in charge of Behaviour and then Headteacher I brought in Restorative Practice into school. It worked brilliantly, reduced serious incidents and prevented bad feeling.

All too often, due to time restraints, incidents were dealt with quickly. Punishments were meted out leaving simmering resentment and underlying grievances unaddressed. That led to disaffection and further incidents – either bullying continued, violence ensued and displacement aggression occurred.

Behaviour was rarely simple and an incident might be the end result of a chain of events and misunderstandings which might not be obvious to the person dealing with the incident or the protagonists.

The first part of the process was to bring the people together, protagonists or perpetrator and victim, and establish exactly what occurred, who was to blame for which bits and what should have been done at the time.

The adjudicator refrains from taking sides but facilitates the extrication of facts from the incident, points out mistakes made and what should have occurred so that people can see better what they have done, how it made other people feel and the results of their behaviour.

This usually involved unravelling a series of incidents, attitudes and misunderstandings going back through time. Often the beginning was unclear to all. But by talking it through everyone could see what had happened better and what they personally had done wrong. More importantly it helps them see the effects of their actions on others and appreciate the impact of what they’d done. It was often very emotional. There was a lot of pent up anger.

Strangely people think that those involved do not own up to what they have done wrong but that is not my experience. They usually try to justify it though.

This process of unravelling takes time but we usually arrive at a point where all parties have had a chance to talk and explain, all parties have accepted what they have done wrong and understand the other person’s point of view.

Then I usually summarised their ‘crimes’ and discussed what would be a suitable punishment for the things they have done wrong. All sides usually had some areas where they were guilty. Punishments ranged from saying sorry and shaking hands with a promise not to do it again, through detentions, litter picking or exclusions.

When asked what their own punishment should be most students came out with harsher punishments than I would have given.

By the time they left the matters had been resolved, there were no lingering resentments, all parties had been listened to, they understood each other, there was a defusing of tension and very rarely any later repercussions.

It was time consuming but not that much. It reduced the number of instances and made for a more harmonious community.

A similar process has been adopted by courts. Instead of putting people through the costly court system bringing them together with their victims to understand the impact of what they have done on others is often more effective and has more long-lasting results.

Of course, not all victims or perpetrators are receptive to this approach and not all crimes are appropriate. But a lot are.

Human behaviour is learn. It has reasons. People are not evil. Some may have psychological, personality or biochemical reasons for abhorrent criminal behaviour but most do not. By confronting people with the outcomes of their behaviour we can change it. Every behaviour has a reason and a consequence.

I am a big supporter of Restorative Justice – I think it works.

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