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October 12, 2021 RAPID RESPONSE

Restorative Justice & the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Cultivating a Positive School Climate

Evidence shows that overly punitive school discipline policies and practices that remove students from the classroom disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students. Many schools have turned away from zero-tolerance discipline policies that impose automatic sanctions upon students. And many schools are seeking alternatives to exclusionary practices that remove students from the classroom, including out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. Public outcry has also inspired some schools to end corporal punishment and the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Many districts are instead exploring how to implement restorative practices. The goals of restorative practices include to intervene and promote positive and inclusive school climates. Restorative practices hold the promise of ultimately putting an end to the school-to-prison pipeline and helping to eliminate racial and disability disparities in how discipline is meted out in schools. They can also better foster students' social-emotional growth, support positive behaviors, and promote prevention-oriented and systemic reform.

This panel provides an overview of the school-to-prison pipeline and restorative justice in schools, highlighting the research on best practices and examining the role of restorative practices in dismantling the pipeline. The panelists also share their challenges and successes with restorative justice, examine what effective implementation looks like, and the use of restorative justice within the juvenile justice system.


  • Darren Aitchison, Director of Training and Support, Restorative Justice Alliance International
  • Seema Gajwani, Special Counsel for Juvenile Justice Reform and Chief of the Restorative Justice Section, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia
  • Dr. Kevin Gilbert, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Howard County Public School System


  • Twanda Turner-Hawkins, Chair, ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice; Director, Global Litigation, Dematic Corp. and KION Americas

Joint Sponsors: ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic JusticeABA Commission on Disability Rights

Co-Sponsors: ABA Center on Children and the LawABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & ResponsibilitiesABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityABA Criminal Justice SectionABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers DivisionABA Law Student DivisionABA Young Lawyers Division


Presentation: Darren Aitchison

ABA Task Force on Reversing the School-to-Prison Pipeline Report, Recommendations and Preliminary Report

Protecting Students' Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline

Fast Facts: Howard County Public School System

Taking Restorative Practices School-wide: Insights from Three Schools in Denver

Restorative Justice Culture Continuum

Building a Restorative Culture in the Howard County Public School System

Significant Disproportionality in Special Education: Current Trends and Actions for Impact | National Center for Learning Disabilities

An Overview of Exclusionary Discipline Practices in Public Schools For The 2017-18 School Year | U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights

Police in Schools: A Background Paper | Education Civil Rights Alliance and American Federation of Teachers

The Northwestern Juvenile Project: Overview | U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention 

Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Continuity of Psychiatric Disorders in a 15-Year Longitudinal Study of Youths Involved in the Juvenile Justice System | JAMA Network

Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge. | ProPublica, October 8, 2021

School policing falls hardest on Black students and those with disabilities, study shows | USA Today, September 8, 2021

A School Discipline Double-Take: How Catherine Lhamon Could Turn Back the Clock With a Renewed Focus on Persistent Racial Disparities — and Ignite New Feuds | The 74, June 15, 2021

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