Monday, March 13, 2023

Crime And Punishment

 At my school, we have a program called Restorative Justice. The key to this phrase is the restorative part. Rather than having kids miss recess or sit in the office or transcribe dictionary pages, our goal is to try and bring some justice to those impacted by the bad choices made by others. The most obvious version of this can be traced back to the rash of bulletin board vandalism we were experiencing a few years ago. It was an easy enough work party to organize. The kids who were tearing things off the bulletin boards were asked to spend some time repairing the damage they had wrought. 

Another aspect of Restorative Justice is the importance of bringing together those who were harmed and those who did the harm. The simplest version of this is the direct apology. Making amends starts with the asking and acceptance of forgiveness. Many times when the two parties meet in the middle, there is a dialogue that reveals what was behind the kick or shove. The hurt feelings that ended up being expressed in a burst of frustration. 

Yes, it takes more time, and the conversations are not always as fluid as we might all hope. Sometimes it still ends with kids sitting on the bench and missing out on their recess. But recess is like gold in elementary school. Even the truly tough nuts will almost always take the restorative path if it means they can go out and play afterward. 

I thought about this as I read an article about a man in Mississippi who was sentenced to forty-two months in prison for burning a cross. He pleaded guilty to a hate crime after being charged with violating the Fair Housing Act over a December 2020 incident in which he put together a wooden cross in his front yard and propped it up so his Black neighbors could see it. He then doused it with motor oil and lit it on fire. He also addressed the family with racially derogatory language.

And now he will lose his recess for three and a half years. 

When he is done serving his time, will he be ready to return to his neighborhood and carry on as if none of this had happened? Will anything be changed? Or will that burning cross be kicked further down the road, waiting to light up the hate-filled night once again? 

I don't know. I'm just an elementary school teacher, but it does seem to me that punishment without education is a waste of everyone's time. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RJ is the best invention of the century so far