Restorative Justice from the Margins to the Center: The Emergence of a New Norm in School Discipline

60 How. L. J. 101 (2016)

42 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2017 Last revised: 2 Apr 2017

See all articles by Thalia González

Thalia González

University of California Hastings College of Law ; Georgetown Law Center

Date Written: January 17, 2017


Changing norms is a difficult process that requires society to discard previously held ideas, morals, and practices. In the case of school discipline, this means abandoning the long accepted practice of zero tolerance and its associated values, identities, and processes of punishment and exclusion. While there has been attention in the literature to changes in school discipline at the local, state, and federal levels — relative to zero tolerance — scholars have not engaged in inquires tracing the emergence of restorative justice, its consequent cascade, and institutionalization as a new norm. This Article aims to do just that. Since the 2000s restorative justice norm entrepreneurs have sought to challenge the social, political, and legal consequences of the school discipline policies grounded in punitive and exclusionary responses to student behavior. Their work has clarified, socialized, and institutionalized restorative justice in local contexts and led to key changes at the state and federal levels. Within diverse contexts, the identity and practice of restorative justice evolved and with it a “first generation” of research emerged. This early work was both descriptive and prescriptive presenting theoretical constructions and empirical findings. As restorative justice has repositioned from the margins to the center there is a need for a “second generation” of studies asking new questions about outcomes, practices, and implementation, but as importantly, how an ideational and normative shift has occurred to move what was once viewed as a ‘weaker alternative’ in discipline to one that is preferred over zero tolerance and exclusion. It is within this “second generation” of study that this Article is positioned. At its foundation this Article is motivated by and grounded in descriptive analysis that identifies and articulates a more integrated understanding of the evolution of school-based restorative justice in the United States. Thus, rather than focus on a single case study, especially given the limitations of one case study to make general inferences, it explores multiple accounts and sites of school-based restorative justice. Moreover, by presenting a range of examples it seeks to promote new directions in the restorative justice research agenda aimed at refining and improving theoretical and pragmatic propositions of how localized practices have catapulted to become widely accepted, applicable, and desirable nationally.

Keywords: restorative justice, school discipline, norm theory, juvenile justice, education, school-to-prison pipeline, social change

Suggested Citation

González, Thalia, Restorative Justice from the Margins to the Center: The Emergence of a New Norm in School Discipline (January 17, 2017). 60 How. L. J. 101 (2016), Available at SSRN:

Thalia González (Contact Author)

University of California Hastings College of Law ( email )

200 McAllister St
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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Georgetown Law Center ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

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