Restorative Justice Book Reviews

Cort’s Book Reviews:


Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for our Times (1990), by Howard Zehr


A good overview of RJ. Uses the metaphor of “changing lenses” to describe a necessary shift from retributive justice (67) to restorative justice (181-183). Uses a vignette about a robbery to help make the case. Very “big picture” – not focused on schools, but a great introduction.

The Big Book of Restorative Justice (contains four smaller books, 2015) by Howard Zehr,

Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Allan MacRae, and Kay Pranis


Makes the point that the goal of RJ is to transform, rather than perpetuate. Quotes Fania Davis of Oakland’s restorative justice program, who says that when a serious harm is done, it may be impossible to restore or return to past circumstances, but “RJ processes create the possibility for transformation of people, relationships, and communities” (16-17).  States the goals and guiding questions of RJ, starting with “Who has been harmed?, and “What are their needs?” (50-51). This book is also a good “big picture” overview.

Keeping Kids in Schools: Restorative Justice, Punitive Discipline, and the School to Prison Pipeline (2012) by Thalia Gonzalez


Short research paper that gives overview of RJ in schools, then focuses on RJ in Denver schools. Cites study showing that zero tolerance policies, thought to create a safer, more positive school climate, actually have the opposite effect (297). Discusses three-tier approach and types of practices (302-305). Discussed the positive outcomes at North High School in Denver, such as restorative agreements being made and followed (followed completely 72% of the time), 50% reduction in school tardiness, and 94% reduction in office referrals (332-333).

Paper can be downloaded here:

Oakland Unified School District Restorative Justice Implementation Guide: A Whole School Approach, by The Oakland Unified School District Restorative Justice Team and Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth


This looks like a good a step-by-step guide and workbook for setting up RJ in a school. It goes over assembling a team, as well as implementing Tiers I, II, and II. It also has a strong race and gender equity component. The main thing it is missing is actual training on running circles and other restorative practices.

Discipline With Dignity: Oakland Classrooms Try Healing Instead of Punishment (2014), by Fania Davis

Short article by the director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth.

Focuses on a vignette about Tommy, a 14-year-old student who was involved in incident with his teacher. Started with her asking him to lift his head off desk, then escalated to the point where he cussed at teacher and swung at intervening RJ coordinator. RJ coordinator showed concern, asking, “Is everything okay?” which prompted Tommy to explain that his Mom had relapsed, he had been taking care of his siblings for three days, and hadn’t been sleeping well.  

Principal:  “We were about to put this kid out of school, when what he really deserved was a medal.”

Instead, they arranged a circle in which Tommy apologized, teacher explained her side, and Mom rededicated herself to treatment.

Most important quote: “If Tommy had been suspended and left unsupervised—as most suspended students are—he would have been behind in his coursework when he returned…According to a national study, he would have been three times more likely to drop out by 10th grade than students who had never been suspended. Worse, had Tommy dropped out, his chances of being incarcerated later in life would have tripled” (Davis).


Discipline Over Punishment: Successes and Struggles with Restorative Justice in Schools (2016), by Trevor W. Gardner


Good overview of RJ in schools with anecdotes from author’s experience. The author is a high school teacher in Oakland reflecting on RJ in his practice. Defines RJ (2) and RJ in schools (3). Focus is on building community, and that participation in RJ process must be a choice, never forced (6-8). Discusses a variety of restorative practices, from core values, to circles, to public apology (if not shameful) (12-17). Says that focusing on misbehavior -  saying that nothing can interfere with teaching and learning in the classroom  - erases the experiences of students who have experienced lasting effects of trauma, which can affect a student’s ability to learn (25)... Author uses the term “preventative justice” (26)... Discusses a Student Justice Panel used at a school in San Francisco (51-55). How it worked: there were about 12 student leaders nominated by teachers. They ran “hearings” (along with an adult facilitator) when a core value of the school was broken. At least 4 members were present at each hearing. However, panel created by push from teachers and students, not admin. Admin was nominally supportive. Apple incident – student threw an apple, denied it to principal, situation escalated, student suspended by principal for 5 days. Student Justice Panel heard about it, and protested. At first they wanted to call principal into meeting, but after talking with advisor, decided to send two members to schedule appointment. Principal agreed to alternate proposal designed by students: apology letter to janitor who had to clean up the apple, stay after to clean cafeteria for a week, and write reflection paper. Student agreed, but partway through week, didn’t stay after school. Student Justice Panel talked with him and told him how important it was for him and them to uphold his end of the agreement. Otherwise, back to punitive discipline. He started staying again. End result: student and staff buy-in, student regulation of the system.