Commentary: Practice Restorative Justice to Shut Down Mass Incarceration

Students in restorative Justice program

By Troy Williams

According to the American Civil Liberties Union the school-to-prison pipeline is a name for the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

Students tracked into prison from an early age when they attend schools with inadequate resources, overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers, insufficient funding for counselors, zero tolerance, and reliance to handle classroom discipline for teachers.

Fania Davis operates a restorative justice program for students in the Oakland Unified School District. Photos courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

Fania Davis operates a restorative justice program for students in the Oakland Unified School District. Photos courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

But there is hope.

For a successful alternative, look at restorative justice programs that are being practiced in Oakland and other cities.

For years Fania Davis, co-founder and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), has been a pioneer in the restorative justice process teaching Oakland children how to communicate their emotions and respond to wrong doing in a way that doesn’t harm themselves or the community.

On Sunday, July 19, RJOY held a fundraiser. I watched nearly a dozen boys and girls sat in a circle with actor and activist Danny Glover, discussing the impact of trauma in their lives.

With nearly 100 adults watching, the young participants expressed fears of having to live in a community surrounded by violence.

“Someone got shot on the street I walk down everyday, one young person.

“The other day I was beat up, stomped out and knocked unconscious by grown men,” said another boy.

“I need a job so I don’t wind up on the street,” a third youth said.

I was impressed by their ability to identify their emotions and communicate them. But I was even more impressed by their resolve to rise above the violence and be of support to each other.

I wish I had their strength, resolve, and insight when I was their age.

The group was lead by a young woman who presented like a seasoned facilitator. Another young lady seemed to play the role of big sister to the group. Several young men expressed how valuable her advice was and that her ability to be a good listener had helped them through a particular traumatic event.

Restorative Justice is rooted in the practice of indigenous cultures that sought to repair harm by inviting the people affected by crime to dialogue together.

Attention is given to community safety, the victim’s needs, as well as opportunities for accountability and growth for the offender.

Based on this event alone, it is clear that Restorative Justice is a model that works and needs to be expanded throughout the community.

But for those of you who need statistical data, here is an example.

At present, seven out of 10 people who parole return to prison within the first three years. But   Restorative Justice programs reverse the percentages. Seven out of 10 participants stay out of prison.

So the answer is clear: if you want to shut the prisons industrial complex, down then practice restorative justice.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, August 15, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)