[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) this week introduced an amendment to reduce youth incarceration in America by helping train school personnel such as teachers and counselors in innovative conflict resolution methods that are less likely to result in non-violent juveniles entering the penal system. Currently, many school systems involve the police in non-violent incidents on school property, which helps feed the “school-to-prison” pipeline that is both expensive and harmful to America’s youth.
“Unless dealt with early and effectively, young perpetrators of minor, non-violent offenses can unnecessarily fall into a pattern of violent conduct later in life,” said Congressman Cohen. “By training educators in alternative conflict resolution methods that yield better results for everyone, we can keep our young people out of jail, help improve the healing process for victims, and save our country money.”
Congressman Cohen’s amendment would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow local education agencies and school districts to use their current federal funding to provide training in “restorative justice” methods. Restorative justice can serve as cost-effective and useful alternatives to the more punitive conflict resolution methods used by many schools to resolve minor student conflicts, such as involving the police.
The victim-centered restorative justice process holds offenders accountable to their victims and their communities, helps offenders understand the impact of their actions, and gives the wronged party an opportunity to have a voice in resolving the conflict—which can assist in the healing process and prevent victims from becoming aggressors.
Congressman Cohen has introduced similar legislation, the Restorative Justice in Schools Act, in 2013 and 2011.