Research in Brief: Restorative Justice & the School to Prison Pipeline

By: Gilline Santos 


  • This Research in Brief blog is part of the School Mental Health series highlighting work and resources for mental health professionals. 
  • This brief originated from the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health (VPSMH) project, which partners with VA school divisions and institutions of higher education to expand support for school mental health services. 
  • This brief summarizes a framework highlighting the effects of institutional racism through exclusionary discipline and provides strategies to decrease the disproportionality of students of color in the school-to-prison-pipeline.
Image of students walking
Source: Canva

The article constructs a framework to combat the racial and ethnic inequalities of the school-to-prison-pipeline (STPP) with its foundation centering on restorative justice (RJ). Racist practices of exclusionary discipline (ED) have historically resulted in negatively affecting students of color. Through the years of being racially profiled and criminalized by the school system, Black and Latinx students have an increased chance of entering the juvenile justice system. By practicing RJ, schools can provide an opportunity to promote belongingness and foster student accountability. Through prevention and interventions, the framework highlights the effects of institutional racism through ED and provides strategies to decrease the disproportionality of students of color in the STPP.


School mental health professionals must be cognizant and actively combat ways institutionalized racism impacts students, such as exclusionary discipline. When students are suspended they are not able to engage in school, maintain academic achievement, and have positive association with their school community.

Equity Considerations 

The framework presents a way to promote equity through restorative justice, but it is still a form of punishment. SMH professionals should validate and empower students, and work to rectify cultural mismatches.

Practitioner Tips 

  • Schools must create a positive school climate. Students are more likely to have emotional stability and willingness to learn when they feel connected. 
  • School staff should practice connectedness and cultural humility. Engaging in critical self-reflection is vital to recognizing implicit biases that may affect classroom and school methods. 
  • Parental involvement has led to increases in school safety, with students less likely to participate in risky behavior. 
  • Student-focused interventions (e.g., peer mediation & restorative circles) promote understanding, responsibility, and connectedness with students. 
  • Community service interventions allow students to develop positive identities and rebuild relationship with community.


Agudelo, F. I., Cole, D., Gallant, S., & Mabee, C. (2021). Restorative justice and the school-to- prison pipeline: A conceptual framework to address racial and ethnic disproportionality. Children & Schools, 43(3), 141–148.


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Gilline Santos is a graduate student in the Counselor Education program at the University of Virginia, pursuing the School Mental Health emphasis offered to trainees through the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health. Trainees in this emphasis complete additional coursework and field experience requirements that prepare them to take on leadership roles in addressing the mental health needs of students in K-12 schools.