We Learn The Work By Doing The (Messy) Work. Reflections On The First Annual NC4RJ Youth Conference

“Last year, I got suspended. And it didn’t work. It only made me more mad.”

The young man sat in a circle with 3 of his peers, his teacher, a youth intern and myself. It was the third and final day of the National Center for Restorative Justice Youth Conference and school teams were using this time to reflect on and 

IMG_4341.JPGcollaborate on an action plan for implementing Restorative Justice in their schools.

He was recounting for us his first-hand experiences with both the punitive system of discipline that is currently most prevalent in US schools (which uses isolation as the primary tactic)  and the alternative system of restorative justice that seeks instead to understand the conflict and  repair relationships by centering around the idea that humans are hardwired  for connection and belonging.

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Accountability, What Does It Really Mean?

“Accountability” as a term to describe restorative justice.  The idea/definition of accountability is counter to how we think/talk about justice.

Accountability: required to explain actions or decisions to someone.

Wikipedia: It is frequently described as an account-giving relationship between individuals, e.g. “A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct”.

The idea conveyed by this term is that someone is holding another person accountable.  When in fact restorative systems allow the author to hold themselves accountable or we (a whole community that includes the author) are holding everyone (ourselves) accountable (mutual accountability).  RJ is grounded in the philosophy that responsibility is met with action.  If there is responsibility and no action there is no justice.  Yet, when the author, who is responsible for the harm takes action to repair the harm… that is justice.  It needs no authority, punishment, or even forgiveness…

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