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Restorative Justice Practices in Schools
March 2018


What does the research say about the effectiveness and implementation of restorative practices in schools?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Anyon, Y., Gregory, A., Stone, S., Farrar, J., Jenson, J. M., McQueen, J. et al. (2016). Restorative interventions and school discipline sanctions in a large urban school district. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1663–1797. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
A large urban district (N = 90,546 students, n = 180 schools) implemented restorative interventions as a response to school discipline incidents. Findings from multilevel modeling of student discipline records (n = 9,921) revealed that youth from groups that tend to be overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions (e.g., Black, Latino, and Native American youth; boys; and students in special education) had similar, if not greater, rates of participation in restorative interventions than their peers. First-semester participants in restorative interventions had lower odds of receiving office discipline referrals (OR 0.21, p < 0.001) and suspensions (OR 0.07, p < 0.001) in the second semester. However, the suspension gap between Black and White students persisted. Implications for reform in school discipline practices are noted.

Fronius, T., Persson, H., Guckenberg, S., Hurley, N., & Petrosino, A. (2016). Restorative justice in U.S. schools: A research review. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from

From the Summary:
This report provides a comprehensive review of the literature on restorative justice in U.S. schools. The review captures key issues, describes models of restorative justice, and summarizes results from studies conducted in the field.

The review was conducted on research reports and other relevant literature published, or made publicly available, between 1999 and mid-2014 and was guided by the following questions:

• What are the origins and theory underlying U.S. schools’ interest in restorative justice?
• How does the literature describe restorative justice programs or approaches in U.S. schools?
• What issues have been identified as important to consider for implementing restorative justice in the schools?

In the literature reviewed for this report, restorative justice is generally portrayed as a promising approach to address school climate, culture, and safety. Although the community of support for its implementation has grown exponentially over the past several years, more research is needed.

Several rigorous trials underway will perhaps provide the evidence necessary to make stronger claims about the impact of restorative justice, and the field will benefit greatly as those results become available over the next several years.

Guckenburg, S., Hurley, N., Persson, H., Fronius, T., & Petrosino, A. (2015). Restorative justice in U.S. Schools: Summary findings from interviews with experts. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
This new report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, describes the promise of restorative justice (RJ) in improving relationships and the overall school environment, and summarizes the findings from interviews with over 40 nationally recognized RJ leaders. Written by researchers from the WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center, the report explores:

• Current work related to RJ in schools
• Defining RJ in schools
• Key practices of RJ in schools
• Successes and challenges of implementing RJ in schools
• Suggestions for future research on RJ in schools

The experts agreed that RJ can help address some major challenges schools face, such as disproportionality among discipline referrals and the zero-tolerance policies that contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline. In addition, the experts supported the need for further rigorous research in the field to determine the full impact of RJ in schools.

Guckenburg, S., Hurley, N., Persson, H., Fronius, T., & Petrosino, A. (2016). Restorative justice in U.S. schools: Practitioners’ perspectives. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
This research report, developed by researchers at the WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center, focuses on how practitioners are integrating restorative justice (RJ) practices into their schools as an alternative to traditional responses to student misbehavior. The report covers how and when RJ is used in schools, and the successes and challenges schools face. The study findings are based on data from both a survey of and interviews with practitioners who are implementing RJ in schools.

Key Findings
Most respondents agreed that student discussion circles are the most frequently used component of an RJ program
Respondents indicated that one of the biggest successes of implementing an RJ approach is a large and rapid decrease in student suspensions and expulsions
Some of the most common challenges of RJ implementation include resistance from some administrators, staff, students, and parents; insufficient funding; and extensive training requirements

This report reflects only the opinions of the individuals surveyed and interviewed, and is not a representative sample of all possible RJ practitioners; the findings are therefore not applicable to all schools in the nation that are implementing RJ. However, the report can be used to inform schools that are researching and/or implementing RJ programs.

Payne, A. A., & Welch, K. (2015). Restorative justice in schools: The influence of race on restorative discipline. Youth & Society, 47(4), 539–564.

From the Abstract:
Schools today are more frequently using punitive discipline practices to control student behavior, despite the greater effectiveness of community-building techniques on compliance that are based on restorative justice principles found in the criminal justice system. Prior research testing the racial threat hypothesis has found that the racial composition of schools is associated with the use of more punitive and less reparative approaches to discipline, just as it has been associated with criminal justice harshness. However, no research to date has assessed the possibility that school-level racial composition may affect the likelihood that specific restorative justice techniques, which are the most commonly used alternative, will be implemented. This study is the first to test the racial threat perspective in relation to use of the restorative practices student conferences, peer mediation, restitution, and community service. Using a national random sample in logistic regression analyses, we find that schools with proportionally more Black students are less likely to use such techniques when responding to student behavior. This finding has several troubling implications for minority students in particular and for education as a whole.


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Restorative justice OR Restorative discipline OR Restorative practice. School, Effect OR Impact, Implement OR Implementation

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.