Why Restorative Justice Matters

by Sharon Solorzano

The Vulnerable Communities team met this week to view and discuss the documentary “13th,” which researches the dramatic rise of prison populations since 1970. The film exposes the disturbing racism and profiteering behind imprisonment; in fact, according to the NAACP, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.”

I expressed frustration that the film educated us, yet left us lacking in direction for what we could do. Jonathan Krall countered that  Grassroots Alexandria is doing something about it, by backing Restorative Justice and Data Transparency Initiatives in the City of Alexandria.

What is Restorative Justice, and why should we care in Grassroots Alexandria? Restorative Justice is an educational philosophy that:

“…empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups, and it’s a growing practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions, and air their grievances. For the growing number of districts using restorative justice, the programs have helped strengthen campus communities, prevent bullying, and reduce student conflicts. And the benefits are clear: early-adopting districts have seen drastic reductions in suspension and expulsion rates, and students say they are happier and feel safer.”

Punishing students by suspending, expelling, or referring them to police has been linked to failing grades and harming social-emotional and behavioral development. Studies show that “School suspension and expulsion can influence a number of outcomes across developmental domains, health and education. For example, students who are expelled or suspended are up to 10 times more likely to drop out of high school.”

The suspension rates at the middle schools in ACPS are shocking and devastating:

  • 60% of the 359 out-of-school suspensions (OSS) in year 2016-17 occurred at Hammond and George Washington Middle Schools.
  • At George Washington Middle School (GW) in 2016 – 2017, OSS affected 1 out of every 4 black students, 1 out of every 6 Latinx students, but only 1 out of every 50 white students.
  • Black students were 19.4 % of the enrollment at GW, yet accounted for 44% of OSS
  • Latinx students were 32% of the enrollment at GW, yet accounted for 46.7% of OSS

This data was obtained by the Advancement Project from ACPS in response to an August 2017 FOIA request regarding suspensions.

What you can do:

  • Attend the Community Forum on Wednesday, 10/25/17, 6:30pm, at The Cora Kelly School. A panel from the Advancement Project, Alexandria NAACP, ACPS, and Tenants and Workers United will discuss Restorative Justice principles and practices moving forward. A question and answer period will follow.
  • Request that Restorative Justice be brought to the ACPS middle schools for 2017-2018. At TC Williams High School, Restorative Justice initiatives have led to a significant decrease in suspensions.
  • Spread the word.

We MUST do better for our vulnerable youth in the City of Alexandria.

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