Human Impact Partners, in partnership with Building Healthy Communities Merced, the Merced Organizing Project, and the California Endowment, conducted an HIA of “restorative justice school discipline” pilots in Merced, California. Restorative justice policies are dialogue-based decision-making processes that consider the needs of all those involved in a disciplinary incident: victims, offenders, and school staff.
In schools with exclusionary or zero tolerance policies, students are automatically suspended, expelled, or arrested for certain offenses. Research shows that suspended students are more likely to drop out and to have higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and incarceration. The HIA examined the potential health impacts of using restorative justice methods at six Merced high schools related to educational and fiscal opportunity and achievement, suspension and school “pushout,” school climate, and mental health.
The HIA found that restorative justice can reduce suspensions by 20 to 40 percent compared with zero tolerance methods. For schools included in the HIA, this would mean 800 fewer students suspended for the 2012-13 school year. Expanded to Merced County, a 40 percent decrease in suspensions and the related increase in attendance would provide more than $100,000 per year in additional state funding, which is based on the number of students in attendance.
The HIA recommended expanding the use of restorative justice to other Merced County schools and allowing three to six years for the approach to be fully implemented in each school. It also recommended connecting restorative justice programs to other resources such as mental health services and substance abuse treatment