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Restorative Conferencing Changes Rotten Behavior

Jul 03, 2014

from the article on Spacewhat:

The mom and her 15-year-old son are so palpably nervous you can almost see anxiety ions in the air.  He’s committed a seriously foolish act.  He and Mom want to cooperate with a restorative conference as an alternative to his getting arrested.

He’s not a bad kid, but like so many kids these days — and so many adults as well — the rules don’t really apply to him.  While immature and a goofball, his antics can be funny, some of the time.  But the joking can also be irritating, disruptive and obnoxious.  This time Goofball crossed a line, a personal violation, that freaked a teacher out to the point where she considered pressing charges — and had every right to do so.  But his behavior was not malicious.

Here’s the dilemma:  no one, not even this furious teacher, wants kids to get arrested, never mind go to jail, unless they seem dangerous or incorrigible.  This kid is plenty punished by poverty, fatherlessness, urban blight and more.  And everyone knows getting a kid involved with the justice system usually makes their lives worse, further dimming their future prospects.  Many kids respond to the clenched fist of the law by becoming even harder and more oppositional themselves.

But equally horrible is just letting the matter go.  Even suspensions are just a vacation on the couch with TV.  Stern warnings are a joke.  So kids get the message that the behavior is not all that bad — which is exactly how they get to feeling they’re above the rules.  So school staff, police, even parents struggling with out-of-control kids have two bad options:  put them in the system or let them go.  Wreck their lives one way; wreck them another.

Conferencing offers a third option.  First developed and institutionalized in New Zealand through their 1989 Children, Young Persons and their Families Act, the technique spread like crazy internationally.  But as the country with by far the largest prison population in the world, by rate and by absolute numbers, the U.S. has been slow to embrace the obvious:

Punishing Goofball would never get to the root of the misbehavior.  How’d he’d get the idea he could violate personal boundaries?  Actually, the moment he was confronted, he admitted he knew such behavior was not okay.  Only offenders who take responsibility for what they’ve done are eligible to go to conference.

Read the full article.

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