Detroit Public Schools and the need for Restorative Justice

Cross posted from Michigan Messenger:

On August 31, 2007 Detroit Public Schools announced they would be setting up mini-police stations within certain high schools in their attempt to ebb crime in and around schools. 

Additionally, the Detroit News reports, “This year is historic because thousands of high school students are being forced to transfer to new schools because four high schools largely serving students from the city’s west side — Redford, Mackenzie, Murray-Wright and Detroit Northern — closed at the end of the last school year.”

When I was in high school, the extent to which school could feel like a precinct was the use of metal detectors. Between the violence stemming from guns and knives especially, the metal detectors were draconian, but I could see how others could see the logic. The police mini-stations are logical but they create an extremely stigmatizing environment for students. It is time for a wholesale revision of how justice is administered to people, school-age in particular.

Detroit-based community activist Grace Lee Boggs:

Prisons, like Jobs, are only a few hundred years old. For most of human history anti-social behavior was viewed as an offense against the community. So the community developed a process for the offender to make restitution and be restored to the community. This process is commonly known as Restorative Justice.

In the 18th century, with the emergence of the nation-state, anti-social behavior began to be viewed as an offense not against the community but against the state which therefore had the right and responsibility to punish offenders. This led to the modern system of Punitive/Retributive Justice in which offenders are incarcerated in prisons built and maintained by governments.

The fact that the prison system is becoming increasingly privatized is proof-positive that it pays to put people away. Our schools are becoming fodder for people that see profits in prisons. For students, I am sure the stigma of having police stations in their schools will undoubtedly have some negative affects on academic achievement and their ability

I remember a comment regarding the story of police being stationed inside schools and it said, (I am paraphrasing) “When inner-city students get police in their school, they get mini-police stations but when suburban students get police in their schools, they get D.A.R.E.

Boggs argues that Restorative Justice builds and strengthens communities by:


- placing the responsibility for reducing crime on members of the community rather than on outside or top down institutions.

- providing a way for victims to describe the pain and suffering that the offense has caused and for offenders to acknowledge guilt and make restitution.

- allowing other members of the community to describe how the offense has affected them and also how or whether they or other members of the community might have shared some responsibility.

- enabling the community to practice criticism and self-criticism.

- leading to some form of community service which improves the community while also helping young people to become more socially responsible through doing something positive.

Effectively applying these frames to schools that have police mini-stations would over time alleviate the need for police presence, especially in the form of mini-stations. Just imagine the power of a student getting in trouble and being put on trial by a jury of their peers who are not interested in punishment or embarrassment, but helping the troubled student correct their mistake by doing good and restoring the student that got in trouble and the school community at-large.

The Restorative Justice model seems far more efficient than sending troubled students to principals that, given our current model, have a vested interest in suspending or expelling these students. Children are literally thrown away like balled up pieces of paper. What’s worse is that conservatives apply the “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” theory to children that were behind in school before they started school.

For those that think Restorative Justice is some liberal theoretical framework, it is “widely practiced in New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Some African and Native American communities also settle disputes in traditional ways which involve elders or village chiefs rather than officers of the law as mediators.”

The students of Detroit deserve a better and we will never get to academic achievement until students feel safe and cherished as members of a unique community.

For more information on Restorative Justice, click here.

Stay up fam, 

Brandon Q.

p.s. I wonder how RJ would have worked for the Jena 6. Your thoughts?

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One response to “Detroit Public Schools and the need for Restorative Justice”

  1. Nikon Camera Bag says :

    the public schools on our district can really give some good education to young kids. they have high standards ~~”

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