Real Justice Is Messy

Posted on November 9, 2015 in Justice

StruggleReal justice demands that all people receive their “fair share” of society’s goods and rewards and aren’t penalized or punished unless they morally deserve it. It also demands that power does not prevent people from receiving what they are rightly due.

Seeking restoration over punishment is messy business.

Last Saturday’s Los Angeles Times featured a story about a new approach the Los Angeles Unified School District implemented to discipline students.

LAUSD stopped suspending students for classroom defiance. In its place, the district is rolling out a process called restorative justice, which seeks to resolve conflicts by bringing all affected parties together to confront the harms done, the needs of those harmed, and the responsibilities of the offender to make things right.

A noble pursuit.

Restorative justice seeks to shine light on the full consequences of bad behavior—how, in this case, the offense affects the entire school and the community. It also pursues why the offending student did what they did, creates opportunity to repair the harm, and gives the offender the chance to heal and change. If the offender refuses to accept responsibility, then they morally deserve punishment.

The implementation has been hasty and rough. Where training and resources have been deployed, it’s working. But schools where the process is yet to be rolled out have no way to restrain defiant behavior. The stress is driving some teachers to take leaves of absence.

Good idea, bad execution.

A real-life portrayal of how power misapplied has prevented teachers and school administrators from receiving what they are rightly due—a safe and constructive environment in which to educate students.

The flaws in LAUSD’s move toward real justice magnify both the need for it and how difficult it is to achieve.

Consider this quote from one of LAUSD’s senior leaders: “We have to teach our students how to be good citizens…they don’t need to miss instructional time to make this happen.”

If a student isn’t at their desk, the school loses money. Of course that’s a factor.

But teaching students to be good citizens…isn’t that their parents’ job?