Tomorrow I will be joining several colleagues as we travel to Calhoun County, West Virginia for two days to meet with community leaders, education professionals, and law enforcement to discuss the potential applications for restorative justice in the community. This journey began last summer when Timothy Woodruff, the superintendent contacted me, concerned about the high number of suspensions and the violence in the school. He was familiar with restorative justice, having taught in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area. He told me that he was looking for a system-wide response that would provide a long-term solution.
With that in mind, we decided to set aside a few days in January to meet and review the potential for RJ in this setting.
Fast forward a few months, and here we are! I have worked with two very qualified professionals to develop a two-day program that is focusing on this community and on being a very participatory process. I am joined by Kathy Evans, an Assistant Professor of Education at EMU since 2011. Dr. Evans teaches some courses and is particularly interested in school and classroom climates, school discipline procedures, and the ways in which restorative justice is applied to educational contexts. I am also joined by Professor James Nolan, a former police officer and professor at West Virginia University. Dr. Nolan teaches courses in the area of crime and social control. His research focuses on neighborhood dynamics, police procedures, crime measurement, and equity and inclusion in higher education.
Since I completed my master's degree at Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peace, I have had lots of involvement with restorative justice, often as part of informal processes in the Eastern Panhandle. I've learned a lot about how processes such as a community building circle may be helpful in schools, both by my research into the RJOY program in Oakland, California and through anecdotes that my son, who teaches fifth-grade shares with me. I've had the opportunity to learn about how law enforcement incorporates restorative justice into their processes through such activities as my interview with Len Wetherbee while teaching an RJ course with EMU. I'm surer now than ever that restorative justice can provide a framework for most any response to wrongdoing that will be superior to the retributive response that we find dominating our educational and judicial institutions.
During our two-day program in Calhoun County, we will begin by exploring the definition of restorative justice and what application it could have to address the problems in the Calhoun County community. Each of us will bring our areas that we work to the table to describe some of the applications of restorative justice that have been successful in other contexts in various communities. After lunch, we will be working in small groups, considering in more detail some of the most challenging problems that the community is facing. I am looking forward to hearing about those and thinking as to how they are similar to what we find in the communities that I work in the Eastern Panhandle and DC Metro area.
On the second day, we will continue to work on these topics but look in a little more detail as to how restorative justice reshapes school discipline and law enforcement. Again, we are excited that all sessions are designed to include a high level of participation among those in attendance and Thursday morning will be no exception. We will be including some short videos of successful RJ programs in the morning. In the afternoon, we will be rolling up our sleeves, sharpening our pencils, and figuring out what steps could be next. If you are interested in learning more about these sessions or similar programs, please contact me!