Collaborative Justice Practices: A Responsible Approach To Bad Behavior In Tennessee Schools

Friday, April 5, 2013

School violence has taken center stage in the national media these past few months.  As a result, the debate has ranged in solutions from having armed officers in schools to community forgiveness.  The problem is that few proposals have existed in the “middle ground” where rational solutions oft lie. 

The problem with the armed guards, or school resource officers, solution at each school is that it is not only cost prohibitive but also it is a repeat of the 1990's and the problems that followed.  According to Vincent Schiraldi, of the Justice Policy Institute, the 1990's had more juvenile arrests than America's entire history before 1990.  As a result, states, like Tennessee, shifted funds from higher education to prisons based on the “Superpredator” myth of the 1990's.

As a result, in what Florida academics have termed the “Test-to-Prison Pipeline” theory, some schools, over time, have adapted to bolster performance-based funding to retain those valuable depleting funds.  The theory suggests that suspended, expelled, imprisoned and drop-out students cannot take standardized tests and therefore the overall scores of the schools improve with more funding being released as a direct result of this practice.  

Nationally, everyone has seen on the news where young children have been arrested on felony and misdemeanor firearms charges for using tater tots, chicken nuggets, etc. as toy weapons and saying “bang!”  In December of 2012, the New York Times even did an article on Tennessee’s problems and mis-steps in dealing with juvenile-based offenses when the federal government had to investigate disproportionate juvenile maltreatment and improper processing.   In Shelby County alone, some 4,000 juvenile offenders are charged each year with 150 to 200 sent to adult criminal court.

Some are calling for the use of “peace studies” practices as an answer. The problem is that they rarely, if ever, talk of holding offenders accountable.  In the 1960's, this movement supported rehabilitation for offenders – a characteristic that many contemporary manifestations are noticeably lacking.  Instead, they contend the path to peace is embracing one’s victimization and forgiving both themselves and their offenders.   They usually support psychological evaluations for students and the liberal prescribing of Ritalin and mood altering drugs as an answer to potential future violence.  Many support the “Three Strikes” policy – the very same policy that evolved into the “Test-to-Prison Pipeline.”

Obviously, there needs to be a middle ground.  The solution to these divergences in thought may just be Collaborative Justice – the merging of Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice practices into one unified practice.  

Conflict Resolution is already used in courts for civil, divorce and juvenile cases.  In the school system, a prime example of Conflict Resolution practices at work is the peer mediation program which has been used with great success for over 30 years in various American school systems. 

Restorative Justice is in use not only in the courts but also in schools and detention facilities.  Daily classroom circle sessions, panels, conferences and Circle Justice are all complex practices aimed at building communities, opening dialogue and holding individuals accountable for their actions.  

There is also an economic side to this issue.  For instance, with a national rate of over 857 students dropping out of school each hour, our economy is taking a massive hit.  Ultimately, high school drop-outs make 40 percent less income, have worse health, are disproportionately incarcerated and ultimately use up more social services and welfare funding than high school graduates.  

Collaborative Justice-based programs tackle these issues head on by improving attendance, improving test scores, lowering disciplinary recidivism, lowering bullying, and more.  With billions being lost in tax revenue from low-income earning dropouts,  more money being spent on failed punitive systems, and even more money being spent to house dropouts that have found their way to prisons – it should be a “no-brainer” that school-based Collaborative Justice programs are indeed a socially and economically proper response to school-based violence in Tennessee. 

Ken Johnson


More Than A Test Score

“Public Education” is on the lips of every politician, during every election cycle. Yet, the debate continues. It is doing well, it is doing poorly, it needs reform, whatever the narrative needs to be that day or what the audience wants to hear.  Well, there are three sides to every story: “Yours, mine, and the cold, hard truth,” like the old Don Henley song reminds us. ... (click for more)

Continue The Current Leadership In Lakesite

November gives each of us an opportunity to go to the polls and demonstrate our “opinion” on how our government is functioning and select those candidates who we feel represent our ideas on how our tax dollars should be spent.  The citizens of Lakesite are currently served by five elected commissioners who continue the long-standing tradition of frugal tax management and maintaining ... (click for more)

County GOP Chairman Says Berke Should Resign For Admittedly Using Encrypted Messaging With Top Staff; Berke, Lee Call It Blatant Partisan Attack

Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Tony Sanders said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke "should immediately resign after admitting that he and his senior staff employ an encrypted message application that neither records or stores messages sent and received for the purpose of official city of Chattanooga business on a government-owned server." He said he was guilty of "deliberates ... (click for more)

Grohn Says Berke Use Of Encrypted Message Service Was Deliberate Attempt To Avoid Open Records

City Councilman Larry Grohn said F riday  that the use of an encrypted message service by Mayor Andy Berke was a deliberate attempt to avoid the Open Records Act. Councilman Grohn, who is running for mayor, said, " In recent days, there has been one story after another come out concerning how the Mayor and his head staffers have used end-to-end encryption apps ... (click for more)

Cleveland Rolls Into 5-3A Volleyball Tourney As Favorite

CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Despite posting a one-loss District 5-3A regular season record, Cleveland volleyball coach Trish Powers acknowledges that her Lady Blue Raiders need serious work on several aspects of their game before starting the postseason tournament as the No. 1 seed. “Our senior class went above and beyond what the coaches expected and our growth as a team has been good,” ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Volleyballers Power Past Ooltewah

Signal Mountain unleashed a potent front-line attack on Ooltewah on Thursday and the Lady Eagles blew past the Lady Owls 3-0 in  non-district volleyball action at Edward M. Foster Gymnasium. The set scores were 25-19, 25-22 and 25-15. Signal Mountain’s Aubrie Johnson, Maia Rackel and Olivia Powers combined for 30 kills and that proved to be a deciding factor in the ... (click for more)