R is for Restorative Justice For Oakland Youth

Restorative Justice can be more effective than Retributive Justice. It focuses on the needs of the victim, together with the offender’s accountability and growth.

Like all approaches, there are successes and failures, but Restorative Justice often works. This has economic implications.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the funding required to send a boy to Eton College for a year is roughly the same as to keep a prisoner incarcerated for that time. So there are both economic and emotional benefits to finding better ways to deal with offences.

Below are excerpts from the website of Restorative Justice For Oakland Youth. You can discover more about their work via the following link.




Disparately impacting youth of color, punitive school discipline and juvenile justice policies activate tragic cycles of youth violence, incarceration, and wasted lives.

Founded in 2005, RJOY works to interrupt these cycles by promoting institutional shifts toward restorative approaches that actively engage families, communities, and systems to repair harm and prevent re-offending.

RJOY focuses on reducing racial disparities and public costs associated with high rates of incarceration, suspension, and expulsion.

We provide education, training, and technical assistance and collaboratively launch demonstration programs with our school, community, juvenile justice, and research partners.

Beginning in 2007, RJOY’s city-funded West Oakland Middle School pilot project eliminated violence and expulsions, and reduced suspension rates by 87%, saving the school thousands in attendance and Title I funding.

Inspired by the successes of our Middle School pilot, by May 2008, nearly 20 Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) principals requested training to launch programs at their sites.

We have served over 1000 youth in Oakland’s schools. UC Berkeley Law’s Henderson Center for Social Justice evaluated the Middle School pilot and released a study in February 2011.

A publication on implementing restorative initiatives in schools produced in collaboration with the Alameda County Health Care Agency is forthcoming.

In 2010, the OUSD Board of Directors passed a resolution adopting restorative justice as a system-wide alternative to zero tolerance discipline and as an approach to creating healthier schools.

RJOY has enjoyed similar success in the juvenile justice arena. In 2007, we gave educational presentations to the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court and others. Impressed with the restorative justice model, the judge convened a Restorative Justice Task Force.

RJOY provided education and training and helped initiate a planning process which engaged approximately 60 program directors – including probation, court, school, and law enforcement officials, as well as community-based stakeholders.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice invites a fundamental shift in the way we think about and do justice.

In the last few decades, many different programs have arisen out of a profound and virtually universal frustration with the dysfunction of our justice system.

What distinguishes restorative justice from all these programs is that it is not a program.

It is a theory of justice which challenges the fundamental assumptions in the dominant discourse about justice.

What are the dominant assumptions?

If you commit a crime, you incur a debt to society, you create an imbalance in the scales of justice.  The only way to pay back the debt and re-balance the scales is to be given your just deserts.

This is based upon the Roman, Justinian notion of “to each his due”. If you caused someone to suffer, you will be caused to suffer. If you have inflicted pain upon someone, pain will be inflicted upon you.

Pain, suffering, isolation, deprivation, even death are often viewed as the only way to make right the wrong, the only way to pay back the debt and the only way to re-balance the scales.

In this sense, dominant justice may be viewed as officially-sanctioned vengeance. Instead of the person harmed who retaliates, it is our justice system that strikes back on the victim’s behalf.

Our criminal justice system tends to focus on determining blame and administering pain – judging and sentencing. The retributive essence of our current system has spawned the highest absolute and per capita incarceration rates in the history of the world.

Scholars speak of how it has “prisonized” the entire North American landscape. We see this phenomenon very clearly in our urban schools which are beginning to look and function more like jailhouses than schoolhouses.

However, in the last three decades, humanity has been making has been making an historic shift from a justice as harming to a justice as healing. From a retributive justice to a restorative justice.

Our criminal justice system asks these three questions:

What law was broken?

Who broke it?

What punishment is warranted?

Restorative justice asks an
entirely different set of questions:

Who was harmed?

What are the needs and responsibilities of all affected?

How do all affected parties together address needs and repair harm?

An emerging approach to justice rooted in indigenous cultures,
restorative justice is reparative, inclusive, and balanced.

It emphasizes:

Repairing harm.

Inviting all affected to dialogue together to figure out how to do so.

Giving equal attention to community safety, victim’s needs, and offender accountability and growth.

Restorative Justice has diverse applications.

It may be applied to address conflict in families, schools, communities, workplace, the justice system, and to even to address mass social conflict (such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa).

For more information about restorative justice, see:



Though contemporary restorative justice began only about thirty years ago, the effectiveness of these practices in reducing violence, incarceration, recidivism, and suspensions and expulsions in schools is increasingly being documented.

It is recognized as a model in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Model Programs Guide.1

A meta-analysis of all restorative justice research written in English, Restorative Justice: The Evidence, concluded in at least two trials, that when used as a diversion, restorative justice reduced violent re-offending, victim’s desire for revenge, and costs.2

A 2007 University of Wisconsin study found that Barron County’s restorative justice program led to significant declines in youth violence, arrests, crime, and recidivism.

Five years after the program began, violent juvenile offenses decreased almost 49%. Overall juvenile arrest rates decreased almost 45%.3

New Zealand ’s juvenile justice system adopted a nation-wide, family-focused restorative approach in 1989, and today, juvenile incarceration is virtually obsolete for crimes other than homicides. 70% of youth participants have no further contacts with the justice system.4 Youth detention facilities are being shut down.5

Closer to home, a Sonoma County diversion program touts a 10% rate of re-offending, 90% plan completion rates, and over 90% victim satisfaction with the process.6

An in-custody adult restorative justice program in San Bruno County showed a decrease in violent re-offending by 82.6% after 16 weeks of participation.7

RJOY’s own program in West Oakland’s Cole Middle School eliminated violence and expulsions and reduced the rate of suspensions by more than 75%.

A 9 minute video about the dramatic impact of restorative practices at one of the schools in the study may be found at:


Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>