Restorative Justice Policies in Merced County Schools

At a Glance:

Location: Merced, California

Date: 2014

Vital Condition: Basic Needs for Health and Safety, Lifelong Learning, Meaningful Work and Wealth

Determinants of Health: education, employment, justice system, education

Affected Population: Children and Youth, English Language Learners, Justice Involved Populations, People Living in Poverty

Research Methods: Focus Groups, Literature review, Primary research

Community Types: urban

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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

This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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