Equitable and Restorative Approaches to Justice in and Out of School
Research on exclusionary school discipline is clear. Every year, millions of students who are disproportionately Black, Latinx, disabled, or LGBTQ+ are suspended or expelled from school in response to minor infractions that pose no threat to students and staff, and each subsequent exclusion increases the odds that these students will disconnect. These same disparities can be seen outside of schools in the prison system, which continues to detain a significant number of Black, Latinx, and Native youth despite an overall drop in youth incarceration.
To improve the overall well-being of youth, increase access to opportunity, and prevent future disconnection, the executive and legislative branches can work in tandem to replace exclusionary approaches to discipline and justice with those focused on restorative outcomes, harm reduction, and reentry.
The Departments of Education and Justice can:
- Reinstate the 2014 School Discipline Guidance Package to Enhance School Climate and Improve School Discipline Policies/Practices and expand the guidance to specifically address equitable disciplinary practices in virtual learning environments.
The Department of Health and Human Services can:
- Work directly with states to provide immediate and regular updates to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Medicaid School Health Technical Assistance Guide and Administrative Claiming Guide that reduce administrative burden at the district level and address telehealth provision and billing.
- Invest in the evidenced-based services and programs outlined in the School Discipline Guidance while prohibiting funding for any grants or programs related to exclusionary school discipline, school resource officers, or contracts with local law enforcement.
- Fund a school and community discipline data management program jointly authorizing the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Department of Education Office of Safe and Supportive Students to collaboratively monitor and evaluate school discipline data.
- Amend Every Student Succeeds Act regulations to require that:
- State and local jurisdictions to demonstrate a commitment to implementing restorative justice principles and de-policing schools; and
- School districts adopt codes of conduct prohibiting identity-based bullying and harassment and report incident data to the Department of Education.
- Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure student needs are met with quality resources and supports rather than disciplinary measures.
- Expand federal funding in physical, behavioral, and public health workforce development to ensure that student-to-staff ratios for counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists in schools meet professional standards, with an emphasis on recruitment from Black, Latinx, and Native communities.
- Guarantee automatic criminal record expungement for nonviolent offenses.
- Strengthen federal leadership in juvenile justice reform with an emphasis on innovative and evidence-based approaches to address racial and ethnic disparities by reinvesting in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The Department of Justice can:
- Provide funding and technical assistance to states to facilitate automatic record sealing and offer guidance on the standardization of “clean slate” policy implementation.
- Limit reincarceration for technical probation and parole violations.
- Provide guidance on the training of parole and probation officers to emphasize support, mentorship, and community resource connections over compliance and control.
- Expand grant funding for evidence-based reentry programs that connect returning citizens with the resources, opportunities, and community necessary to reduce recidivism.
The White House can:
- Build on the work of the American Rescue Plan by including federal funding for evidence-based harm reduction efforts in the annual appropriations process.
- Expand and fully fund evidence-based recidivism reduction programs required by the First Step Act to ensure access for every individual incarcerated in federal prisons.