Do Restorative Justice Practices Increase School Safety?

Restorative justice practices were put into place in many of our nation’s schools a number of years ago. These programs focus on alternatives to exclusionary discipline practices such as suspension and expulsion. They include conflict resolution, relationship-building, and fostering empathy, forgiveness, and self-reflection.

But, do they help create safer schools and a more positive school climate?

Chicago Public Schools adopted the program during the 2013-14 school year. Researchers at the University of Chicago Education Lab gathered and analyzed data from before the practices were implemented (2008-09) and after they were in place for 5 years (2018-19). They found that the practices resulted in a 35% decrease in student arrests in-school and a 15% decrease in student arrests outside-of-school. Out-of-school suspensions were reduced by 18%. Students perceived improved classroom behavior among their peers and a greater sense of safety and inclusion at school.

Philadelphia High School reported that in the year of restorative justice implementation, “violent acts and serious incidents” dropped by 52%. The following year, they dropped by 40%.

Denver Public Schools reported that over 7 schools, the number of expulsions dropped from 23 to 6, and in-school suspensions improved by 13% after 3 years of restorative justice practices implementation.

While there are many anecdotal accounts of success from these practices, there is little scientific research, and we could benefit from additional studies. To be fair, a Google search will reveal that some studies fail to demonstrate the effectiveness of restorative justice practices in schools. However, the potential benefits of restorative justice practices range from a decrease in discipline referrals and racial disparities to improved academic scores and an increased sense of safety among students and staff.

Is it worth trying in your school?

Studies suggests that the program may need to be consistently in place for 3-5 years before we begin to see the impact If you have been implementing these practices over a number of years and have noted changes, I’d love to hear from you, so I can share your successes (or challenges) with others.

Source material:

The University of Chicago Education Lab,

Goodwin, B. ASCD, October 2021, Vol.79, No. 2 

Davison, M. NWEA, December 2022