Restorative justice programs growing in King County schools and juvenile court


Click the image above to watch IN Close’s report on growing restorative justice programs.

Looking for schools in King County that dare to handle discipline differently?

And by different, we mean avoiding things like excessive and racially disproportionate use of suspension (and most definitely class interventions like this).

Then you’ll want to check out this recent IN Close report on Seattle’s Garfield High School, where Principal Ted Howard is fostering the use and instruction of restorative justice. Restorative justice sessions are led by mediators who help offenders understand the full impacts of their actions directly from victims and find the community-based support they need to stay out of trouble in the future. (Highline Public Schools such as Big Picture High School in Burien have also taken on the practice.)

Restorative Justice to us at Garfield is about, really, social equity. It’s not just about discipline, but it’s about our academics, our discipline in the culture of our building and the way we choose to educate kids.

Ted Howard, Principal of Garfield High School in Seattle on IN Close

Restorative Justice training is offered by Polly Davis, assistant program manager at King County’s Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution. In addition to helping resolve disputes at school, restorative-justice trained students are now participating in a Restorative Mediation program King County began piloting this year in its juvenile court.

Although the term “restorative justice” has increased in popularity recently as it’s been hailed an innovative and more effective way to handle both student discipline and juvenile crime, Davis is quick to remind people that the concept has been used to heal communities for ages. And many, without knowing it, already use it to mediate problems with family and friends.

These are age-old, traditional processes within indigenous communities in the United States and throughout the world. And, really, within your own family. I mean, how many times have you just looked at somebody and said, what were you thinking? Who was involved? What are you going to do? That’s really what we’re asking the discipline systems in schools to begin to move toward.

Polly Davis, assistant program manager at King County’s Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution on IN Close

As one of the students interviewed in the piece admitted, restorative justice can mistakenly be seen as a too-soft way to handle youth whose behavior is disruptive or damaging to those around them. But, in many cases, it can be a more effective way to confront the root of a youth’s misbehavior.

When I first heard about it, you know, [I thought] “Well that sounds that sounds kind of touchy-feely – like talk it out? You know, shouldn’t they actually learn their lesson?” But the fact of the matter is the “learning their lesson” method isn’t working right now … Sometimes it ends up causing more trouble.”

— Julia Furukawa,  junior at Garfield High School on IN Close

The hope is that, as the use of restorative justice in schools and the juvenile justice system grows, the overall number of students subject to suspension and detention diminishes.

Oftentimes we find youth who find themselves out of school in our juvenile justice system, and if we can encourage [schools] to develop a different way of communicating their disputes — communicating their concerns in a more constructive fashion — then maybe we’ll need much less of our juvenile justice system.

King County Juvenile Court Judge Wesley Saint Clair on IN Close

Conversation about expanding the practice in King County will continue tonight at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute when the City of Seattle hosts restorative justice leader Fania Davis at 6:30 p.m. Fania Davis is the founder and director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY). Since beginning the program at a middle school in Oakland, Calif. in 2007, its school suspension rates have decreased 83 percent.

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