Researcher ORCID Identifier

Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Dionne Bensonsmith

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2023 Sophia I Diomande


Discipline is not simply a tool but a weapon — one that American educators have wielded for generations to regulate children and enforce habits of self-control and accountability. In a world where institutionalized forms of discrimination continue to plague judicial and educational systems alike, vis-à-vis the school-to-prison pipeline, the question must be asked: When does discipline stray beyond its intended purpose and into the realm of punishment? This thesis discusses the historical and contemporary implications of punitive discipline and its effects on students, particularly students of color and disabled students. Retributive policies such as suspensions, expulsions, physical restraint, and seclusions are systematically weaponized against the community’s most vulnerable students and continuously funnel them into the school-to-prison pipeline.

In place of punitive discipline, this thesis puts forth restorative and transformative justice frameworks to be adopted. These alternative forms of justice are centered around communication, harm reduction, and healing. This paper presents an analysis of a study that examines the impact of restorative justice on disciplinary policies in the seven largest school districts in each of the following eight states of study: Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The impact is measured by instances of suspensions, expulsions, mechanical and physical restraints, as well as seclusions. The findings from the study suggest that the relationship between restorative justice and non-carceral discipline policies is less linear than the hypothesis presumed and that more research is needed in the field. Irrespective of quantitative results, punitive measures, when overused or misused, can be, and very often are, detrimental to the well-being and success of children. It is essential that disciplinary policies promote a culture of empathy, respect, and understanding, rather than punishment.