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Restorative justice in schools: a New Zealand example

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Background Many responses to students whose behaviour is considered unacceptable at school fail because they treat young people as isolated individuals and do not operate in the context of the community of people who know and care about them. In some parts of the world there is a move towards exploring how to support such students by moving away from retributive justice and the primacy of assigning blame and punishment to an alternative means of preventing, managing and controlling behaviour by establishing partnerships with students' home communities. One such approach is restorative justice. Purpose To examine how the process of restorative justice can make a positive response to unacceptable behaviour. Design and methods This paper draws together some of the literature associated with this approach, with a case example of restorative justice in action. It illustrates how community norms and values can help to encourage more socially appropriate behaviour. This example comes from a New Zealand Māori context and an intervention undertaken with 'Wiremu', a young man whose behaviour was of concern at home, in school and in the local neighbourhood. Results The intervention operated through traditional Māori protocols to shift the focus away from those affected by Wiremu's actions, and from Wiremu himself, on to the whole community in order to focus on 'putting things right' between all those involved in the wrongdoing. It shows how traditional community conflict resolution processes were able to address and resolve tension, make justice visible and more productive, and support the restoration of harmony between Wiremu, those upset by his wrong-doing and the collective. Conclusions Introducing restorative practices in schools is not straightforward. It requires considerable forethought and prior planning, negotiation and deliberation. Restorative justice requires that schools do not own or completely control the process, but have to learn to be responsive to families and local voluntary community groups who are, potentially, important sources of additional support for schools in addressing student behaviour that is seen as problematic.
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Keywords: Challenging behaviour; Community-school partnerships; Cultural responsiveness; Home-school partnerships; Restorative justice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand 2: RTLB Māori, New Zealand 3: University of Waikato, New Zealand

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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