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  • Writer's pictureJace Cardona

Restorative Questioning

Updated: May 22

Disorderly conduct was the most common offense seen at RI JHBs in 2022. Because no two cases of disorderly conduct are exactly alike, JHBs should not use a uniform approach in these cases. Instead, members can use restorative justice-based practices that help youth understand who has been harmed, how they have been harmed, and how the youth can begin to repair that harm.

Restorative justice has a long history and has been used by indigenous communities for hundreds of years. Its success in resolving conflict and rebuilding community relationships has brought it to the mainstream and at the forefront of youth prevention and diversion efforts in the United States and around the world. You can read more about the history of restorative justice from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime here.

Perhaps the most relevant practice for JHBs is restorative questioning or inquiry. This is the process by which youth are asked to reflect on their actions and circumstances, with the JHB acting as the mediator between the youth and the victim and/or community. Through restorative questioning, JHBs can help youth and families process what happened and guide them on a path to healing and growth. Here are some examples of restorative questions:

  • Who was affected by this and in what ways?

  • What could you have done differently?

  • What has been the hardest part for you because of what happened?

Note that these examples do not ask, “why?” This is because, “why,” is an incredibly difficult question to answer, especially for young people in stressful situations. You can view the bank of restorative questions by Restorative Justice RI and adapted by RICJ for JHBs here.

Restorative questions also help JHB members to devise assignments for youth that are meaningful and related to the incident in some way. Examples of assignments that can be related to an incident include community service, letters of apology, journaling, and providing opportunities and resources to give youth a chance to (re)build relationships such as skills groups, youth programs, and more.

Trust and respect are essential components of effective restorative justice and questioning. Letting a youth and family know from the start that the JHB is meant to be an opportunity, not a punishment, can help build trust early on. Furthermore, showing empathy and faith that a youth can rectify their actions is key to building rapport. Being mindful of facial expressions, tone, and word choice, as well as being considerate of cultural influences, further supports a safe space for families and youth to answer questions honestly.

In a past Community Ally Coalition (CAC) discussion about disorderly conduct, a Central Falls High School Restorative Specialist testified about the efficacy of implementing restorative practices and de-escalation strategies in helping youth and communities resolve conflict and repair harm. Yet, there are very few opportunities to participate in restorative justice, especially for youth of color who are more severely disciplined in schools and courts in RI. Unfortunately, schools and communities often have no recourse but the police in crisis situations.  This, in effect, criminalizes student behaviors for which there are no better options. Restorative justice is the alternative to the juvenile legal system that must be expanded upon in communities through investment in JHBs and restorative justice in schools.

We will continue our discussion on disorderly conduct and equity at the next CAC on May 30 at 12pm over Zoom. This is long overdue but well worth the wait because we will be joined by Angela Ankoma, the Vice President of Equity Leadership at the RI Foundation. RICJ also has a team of certified restorative justice youth facilitators to provide engaging and educational training to any interested group!

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