The Healthy Youth Development - Prevention Research Center faculty and staff conduct research with community partners in alignment with shared interests, needs and opportunities. These research projects may be community-led, practice-based or translational in nature and help fulfill the HYD - PRC's commitment to community engagement, bridging the gaps between scientific knowledge and public health practices and focusing on issues of interest to community partners.
Restorative Practices in Education and Community Settings
Restorative Practices & Restorative Justice Research
Since 2008, HYD-PRC staff (Kara Beckman - Senior Evaluator, Abi Gadea - PRC Deputy Director, Barb McMorris - Associate Professor, Rebecca Shlafer - Assistant Professor) have conducted multiple projects to assess and disseminate lessons learned about Restorative Practices in school and community settings. These projects include:
Saint Paul Public Schools’ (SPPS) Whole School Restorative Practices (2016-present)
Together with their teacher’s union, SPPS began a pilot project during the 2016-17 school year to explore pathways to high-quality, whole school Restorative Practices implementation in twelve pilot sites. McMorris, Beckman and Gadea have helped develop meaningful implementation measures, applicable lessons learned and provided technical assistance on tailoring restorative practices to the developmental ages and stages of children and youth. As a result of these efforts and through a jointly submitted research proposal, the district was awarded a $3.9 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand from 12 to 20 schools implementing restorative practices. Current evaluation reports can be found on the district website.
Youth Restorative Justice Initiative (2018-present)
The Youth Restorative Justice Initiative seeks to build the strongest, potentially replicable model of integrating restorative justice practices across all decision points (i.e., within schools, police, county prosecution, and courts) in the justice system. Centered in Hennepin County with the Legal Rights Center and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers as partners, the initiative includes pilot testing, evaluating, and reporting on restorative practices - processes such as peacemaking circles, victim-offender mediation and family group conferencing that use collaborative, contextualized and tailored processes to determine harm, accountability, and steps needed to make amends - at each decision point. Beckman has summarized social science literature to inform the work; designed qualitative and quantitative methods for pilot projects at different decision points; and has analyzed and summarized data from schools, pre-charge restorative justice diversion, and restorative responses to truancy violations.
Legal Rights Center Family Group Conferencing Evaluations (2008-present)
McMorris and Beckman served as external evaluators on two completed projects and one ongoing project for the Legal Rights Center evaluating the use of Restorative Family Group Conferences. Completed projects have examined Family Group Conferences as an alternative to expulsion in local public schools, resulting in reports available at http://www.legalrightscenter.org/reports.html. A 2020-2021 project is to implement and evaluate Family Group Conferences as a mechanism to facilitate successful re-entry of 100-120 justice-involved youth back into the public school system.
Transforming Justice Response for Youth, Ramsey County Attorney’s Office (2020-present)
Beckman, Gadea, and Shlafer along with Sarah Davis from the Legal Rights Center, have recently been named as the Research Partner for a Ramsey County effort to transform its responses to youth referred to the justice system so they are more restorative, effective and developmentally appropriate. The HYD-PRC team will provide technical assistance on research and best practices; produce a report analyzing current juvenile justice system responses and outcomes for youth; advise on creating differentiated responses to delinquent behavior in alignment with brain science and youth development; and design and implement evaluation of alternative justice system responses and outcomes for youth.
Minnesota Department of Education Restorative Practices Technical Assistance (2012-2019)
Beckman has authored or co-authored materials aimed at providing guidance to school communities seeking to implement whole school restorative practices. This work has involved synthesizing existing evidence with qualitative research with local experts to create 1) website content (2019, in press) and 2) three resources including a) Trainer’s Guide for Working with Schools to Implement Restorative Practices (2016); b) Restorative Practices – An Administrator’s Checklist (2016); and c) Restorative Interventions Facilitator’s Toolkit with multiple evaluation and assessment tools to improve practice and monitor implementation (2012). Materials available at https://education.mn.gov/MDE/dse/safe/prac/resprac/index.htm.
What are Restorative Justice & Restorative Practices?
Restorative Justice is a relational theory of justice that rejects beliefs of a punitive justice system. A punitive justice system views human beings as atomistic, individual actors making rational decisions. A relational justice system sees individuals as social actors influenced by relationships and circumstances, resulting in an explicitly relational understanding of causation and effective responses in relation to harmful acts.1
It differentiates itself in the belief that needs related to relationship, development, physiology or skills are the most consequential underlying factors of youth behavior and that approaches seeking primarily to adjust the mix of consequences and reward to motivate positive behavior would only have an impact on youth whose needs are already met. In practice therefore, rather than isolate behaviors to determine if a rule was broken, who is to blame and what the punishment should be, restorative justice isolates relationships to ask what harm happened, who was affected, what are their needs and who has obligations to make things right?2
Restorative Practices, the term more frequently used within Minnesota, expands the idea of a theory of justice to focus more broadly on relational ways of being. Restorative Practices in schools (and in families and communities) can be seen as an approach for developing equitable relationships, engaging students in learning, and responding to disciplinary concerns by ensuring accountability to relationships.
The term Restorative Practices encompasses an acknowledgement that the principles, beliefs and practices are inherent in indigenous cultures and communities of color which view individuals as profoundly interconnected and inherently good. Likewise, it recognizes that for individuals whose heritage is primarily Western European, learning about Restorative Practices requires initial work to explore and shift away from mindsets that view individuals primarily as independent, rational actors. Additionally, Restorative Practices embraces the importance of establishing strong, connected, inclusive relationships both to one another and to learning so that repair or restoration of those relationships is both natural and desired.
1) Llewellyn JJ, Archibald BP, Clairmont D, & Crocker D. (2013). Imagining success for a restorative approach to justice: Implications for measurement and evaluation. Dalhousie Law Journal, 36, 281-316.
2) Zehr H. (2002). Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. New York, NY.
How do Restorative Practices align with Healthy Youth Development?
The fields of brain science, developmental psychology, and trauma research converge on the idea that, whether consciously or subconsciously, young people's individual behaviors are often logically congruent with the social, environmental, and economic structures that surround them. Unfortunately, societal policies and practices frequently fail to acknowledge the centrality of these relational and contextual elements to youth development and success, and too often have the effect of depriving youth of full opportunity to learn and grow. Restorative Practices and Healthy Youth Development share the following principles and practices which can guide transformational changes to how our children and youth experience education and justice systems.
- Children and youth primarily experience life through relationships and other contextual elements that impact how they grow and learn.
- Relationships matter for learning; ample research shows that better relationships in school are associated with better academic outcomes and lower levels of involvement in problematic behavior.
- Children and youth develop increasingly complex skills as they mature towards becoming contributing adults, including identity development, development of empathy, decision-making, relationship, and problem-solving skills.
- Opportunities, relationships, and experiences, including traumatic experiences that can drastically delay development, will shape a youth’s exposure to and development of key skills.
- Youth need age-appropriate, relationship-based opportunities to move through the tasks of childhood and adolescence, including when they make mistakes.
- Events that disconnect us from each other can result in feelings of embarrassment, shame, and humiliation, which signals to us that something is awry in our relationships.
- Punitive responses to harmful events are counterproductive in that they are frequently received passively rather than requiring engagement, they engender defiance rather than empathy, disconnection rather than healing, and deprive children of rights to learn and grow from mistakes, resulting in high levels of recidivism.
- At the institutional level, shift from a focus on individual behaviors and skill building to structural approaches focused on creating a relationally-oriented approach to learning.1-4
- Provide high levels of support (i.e., teaching and practicing) and accountability (identifying needs, harms and obligations) for developing empathy, decision-making, relationship, and problem-solving skills; through these practices, create an environment in which more serious needs may become apparent and referrals can be made to more intensive resources.
- Align specific practices to the cognitive, emotional, and social milestones of individual youths’ developmental stage, as impacted by environmental circumstances.
- Respond to harmful events through practices that strengthen the social bonds between people, and help repair those bonds when they have been fractured or broken, resulting in effectively discharging shame, and building positive affect.5
1) Bianchi H. (1994). Justice as sanctuary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
2) Braithwaite J. (1989). Crime, shame and reintegration. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
3) Morrison BE & Vaandering D. (2012). Restorative justice: Pedagogy, praxis, and discipline. Journal of School Violence, 11(2), 138-155.
4) Zehr H. (1990). Changing lenses: A new focus on crime and justice. Scottsdale, PA: Hearld Press.
5) Morrison B. (2007). Restoring safe school communities: A whole school response to bullying, violence, and alienation. The Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW, 28-29.
Resources & Links
Saint Paul Public Schools Restorative Practices
Saint Paul Federation of Educators Restorative Practices
Minnesota Department of Education Restorative Practices
Legal Rights Center Y:EARS Program
University of California Davis Transformative Justice in Education Center
International Academy of Trial Lawyers Youth Restorative Justice and Trafficking Prevention Initiative
Eastern Mennonite University Graduate Program in Restorative Justice