Schools contribute to the school-to- prison pipeline by utilizing punitive approaches to discipline, including suspension, expulsion, or arrest, rather than a restorative approaches to conflict resolution. As Mayor, how would you promote restorative justice practices that focus on resolving youth issues and restoring justice to the offended, while not criminalizing youth?

Criminal Justice Reform

Youth who are engaged in school and learning are at lower risk of violence. CPS has worked with stakeholders and partners to develop strategies that get students to school; keep them on track by overcoming academic hurdles; and replace the zero tolerance discipline policies with “restorative practices” that prevent and de-escalate conflict by addressing the underlying causes of personal conflicts and misconduct. In fact, we’ve seen a 30% decline in out-of-school suspensions, referrals for expulsions and arrests of students. The Mayor’s Commission for a Safer Chicago made recommendations designed to further engage schools, parents, community members in the use of these restorative practices, including to: develop a plan and seek funding to establish three new community-based justice hubs available to schools and community members, which employ restorative practices; train and bring parents into at least four new schools to help lead and participate in restorative practices; launch a challenge grant program for principals to develop and implement proposals to employ Restorative Practices in their schools; and create a Restorative Practices ‘Toolkit’ that can be used to assist schools in adopting Restorative Practices.

Restorative justice practice must be part and parcel of the city’s public safety and education strategies. I have always been a staunch advocate for the expansion of restorative justice practice in schools because I believe it builds accountability to the community and allows spaces for healing and conflict resolution. Restorative Justice is a critical diversionary tactic that prevents young people from ever having contact with the criminal justice system, thus thwarting the school to prison pipeline. Punitive approaches to discipline and an administration that has consistently refused to fully fund public neighborhood schools with resources have only contributed to the school to prison pipeline. I believe expanding restorative justice practice in schools will equip youth and adults with conflict resolution skills, strengthen the fabric of community and inter-school relationships, and build trust. Restorative Justice practice treats youth like human beings. By humanizing our youth, we can better understand how best to address their needs.

I have supported restorative justice practices throughout my career as legislator and a community organizer. Last November under the leadership of County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, we announced a significant investment for community-based restorative justice programs. As Mayor, I will work to continue to support community-based interventions, including restorative justice programs that channel youth toward non-violent conflict resolution counseling, mentoring and job training. I am also committed to working to eliminate the school to prison pipeline. Too many young people, especially youth of color from low-income communities, are pushed out of school and into the juvenile justice system, and then the criminal system. In addition to the human cost, the $78,000 it takes a year to keep a young person in prison in Illinois could be better spent on public grade school and high school education, counseling, and strategies to set our young people onto a path to college and productive work. Lastly, I would ensure that officers are trained to serve and protect all residents, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender-identity or immigration status. When police take on immigrations enforcement responsibilities, or break the trust with the communities they serve, they compromise their ability to protect and serve Chicagoans.

We will enact a holistic Restorative Justice program for Chicago Public School students. This program will make certain both the offender and victim receive equal attention. We will utilize circles, peer conferences, and restorative discussions, non-judgmental spaces for students who violate administrative rules, those affected, and members of the school community to discuss violations and thereby ensure fair accountability, and collectively all stakeholders shall agree upon solutions designed to repair the damage.

Applying restorative justice into our schools will promote the learning environment and provide effective ways to address behavior issues at school. I would create task force to analyze restorative justice policies already in place and determine what changes, if any, need to be made. Addressing behavior issues in a restorative justice manner rather than punitive can lead to long term benefits like controlling impulses and teaching proper social skills. We need to provide a safe, positive environment for children to learn and restorative justice policies is a terrific tool.