Myra Blackmon, a regular columnist for The Online Athens Banner-Herald (Ga.), frequently substitutes in her local elementary school and enjoys it. One day recently, the class of second-graders was rude and undisciplined. When the regular teacher returned, she did not discipline or punish the students. She had each of them write a letter of apology to Ms. Blackmon.

Ms. Blackmon was moved.

She writes:

“Instead of keeping them in from recess, which really accomplishes nothing and creates different problems, or some other group punishment, this teacher had them write letters of apology. They range from perfunctory to pleading for forgiveness. Some offer excuses or explanations for their behavior. One simply wrote, “I wasn’t in school that day.”
This simple act is a classic example of restorative justice. Instead of being punished, these children had to make it right with me — and their teacher. They had to use their writing skills, they had to think about what they had done. They had to take responsibility for their behavior.

“The concept of restorative justice is not new. In Exodus 22:1-14, we read of required restitution for a variety of crimes against people. The Pentateuch recognizes that crimes of theft or arson are crimes against victims, who must be made whole.”

And she adds:

“Research has shown that restorative justice in school settings — replacing suspensions and punitive practices that teach no lessons and leave perpetrators behind in their school work — leads to fewer repeat offenses. Coupling it with counseling, tutoring and helping students figure out better behavior has shown to dramatically reduce dropout rates.

“In a season where Jews have recently celebrated Passover and God’s redemptive release from bondage, where Christians rejoice that Christ died and rose again to save us from our sins, we should reflect on restorative justice. How do we teach people to right their wrongs and not just pay for them? How do we learn to forgive in the face of personal injury? How do we as a community make our lives whole and unite in learning to love one another?

“God never said it would be easy. Jesus encouraged us to go against our very nature in loving and forgiving those who wrong us. As we learn and grow together in love and forgiveness, can we better move forward to offer a community that encourages all its members to live their best lives?

“That is my Easter prayer.”