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Toward a Restorative Community: Detroit’s Whole-Neighborhood Approach

After years of restorative work in schools and other organizations including police, human services, court systems, corrections and neighborhood associations, the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) is embarking on a project to support an aligned restorative approach across these sectors. The goal is to have a positive impact on children and families throughout the city of Detroit.

The IIRP is partnering with the Skillman Foundation, which is underwriting a multiyear grant to support the project, as well as Black Family Development Inc., the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and the University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Making kids safe in their communities and successful in school

Detroit students who say they’ve benefited from restorative practices in their schools. The first phase of the project focuses on the Ninth Police Precinct on the east side of Detroit. Beginning in January 2017, IIRP’s SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change program is being implemented in two high schools and one middle school.

Simultaneously, a leadership team of about 35 stakeholders are meeting on a quarterly basis to coordinate efforts. The focus of this team is four-fold:

  • Support the personal development of each leader’s restorative practice
  • Support fidelity of restorative practices implementation within systems
  • Organize restorative practices alignment across systems
  • Plan to scale the effort across the city in succeeding phases

Individuals becoming active stewards of their community

Through a “whole-neighborhood” approach, individuals are becoming active stewards of their community, embedding restorative practices in neighborhoods, schools and systems.

“Previously, the major focus was around restorative work in schools,” explained IIRP Michigan representative and lifelong Detroit resident Henry McClendon, Jr. “What’s exciting and different is that this project is bringing alignment between systems and neighborhoods that impact children and families.”

On a block in Detroit, Michigan, residents had been warring for six years. Children on their way to school were afraid of being caught in the crossfire. A woman was firebombed out of her house. Repeated police attempts to stop the conflict failed.

So Ninth Precinct Police Commander Charles Mahone decided to exercise his training in restorative practices, bringing together families and local police for a circle. The three-hour meeting began with people hurling insults. That changed when people were asked to answer the question, “What has been the hardest thing for you?”

Suddenly, as each person shared – residents, neighborhood leaders and police officers – the yelling stopped and for the first time people listened to each other. It turned out that the conflict had started six years earlier with a fight between two children. In the aftermath, things spiraled out of control into multiple disputes as well as criminal violations.

This first meeting did not resolve every issue, however it created the space and provided a process to allow residents to rebuild their community. This was evident in the terms participants used to describe their change of feelings as a result of the meeting. In place of frustration about the conflict, they felt remorse. In place of hopelessness, they began to feel hopeful.

“We’re creating an environment where this becomes the norm for how people choose to handle conflicts,” said McClendon.

This article was originally published on the IIRP website.

About IIRP

The International Institute for Restorative Practices is a graduate school that expands the boundaries of the emerging social science of restorative practices. With roots in restorative justice, a way of looking at criminal justice that emphasizes repairing the harm done to people and relationships, restorative practices has the broader goal of proactively developing community, managing conflict, building relationships and increasing social capital. The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that “people are happier, more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.” Learn more at

IIRP receives grant funding from the Skillman Foundation.

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