Fostering community, sharing power: Lessons for building restorative justice school cultures


  • Talia Sandwick The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Josephine Wonsun Hahn New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
  • Lama Hassoun Ayoub Center for Court Innovation



restorative justice, school culture, school discipline, school safety, positive discipline


Increasingly, education policymakers are touting restorative justice as a way to interrupt the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which disproportionately impacts students by race, sexuality, and disability. A small but growing research literature suggests that restorative justice decreases suspension and behavioral incidents, while improving school climate—particularly when embraced as a schoolwide ethos, rather than a targeted disciplinary strategy. Restorative justice represents a marked departure from long-standing punitive approaches to discipline, however, and school communities are eager for support in navigating this culture shift. To this end, this article presents findings from case studies of five diverse NYC schools using restorative justice approaches. Drawing on qualitative data from interviews and focus groups with educators, students, parents, and school safety agents, our findings provide insight into key practices and resources, stakeholder perceptions, and challenges of and practical strategies for building holistic, schoolwide restorative justice. We present a series of “lessons” to inform restorative justice practice and policy, underscoring the importance of community-building, deliberate resources and infrastructure, interrogating localized and systemic power dynamics, and elevating student leadership.



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Author Biographies

Talia Sandwick, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Talia Sandwick is a Ph.D. candidate in Critical Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), and a researcher at the Center for Court Innovation. She has been engaged in collaborative, social justice research for over a decade in the realms of education and criminal justice. She is particularly interested in how participatory approaches to research may contribute to the democratization of knowledge production and the creation of more genuinely “public” policy. She lives in Brooklyn and is a proud auntie to Bennett and Georgia.

Josephine Wonsun Hahn, New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice

Dr. Josephine Wonsun Hahn is a research director at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, where she oversees research related to racial disparities, neighborhood safety, legitimacy, and diversion and reentry. Previously, she was a senior researcher at the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), and before that, a researcher at the Vera Institute of Justice. Dr. Hahn holds a B.A. from Princeton University, an M.P.H. from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark (now Rutgers School of Public Health), and a Doctor of Science from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Lama Hassoun Ayoub, Center for Court Innovation

Lama Hassoun Ayoub is deputy research director at the Center for Court Innovation. She leads research studies related to school safety, youth violence, and community supervision. She is currently Principal Investigator of a comprehensive mixed-methods study of school safety, security, climate and discipline in New York City; a randomized controlled trial evaluating restorative practices in Brooklyn; and co-leads a quasi-experimental evaluation of neighborhood-oriented probation. She enjoys working closely with communities as well as practitioners in criminal justice, education, and public health. She received her graduate degree from Harvard University.




How to Cite

Sandwick, T., Hahn, J. W., & Hassoun Ayoub, L. (2019). Fostering community, sharing power: Lessons for building restorative justice school cultures. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 27, 145.