YWCA Madison

Restorative Justice Program

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What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is a philosophy that guilds resolving problems that have caused harm or damaged relationships. Restorative justice prioritizes accountability and community healing over punishment, shifting the focus from what rules were broken and what punishment is deserved to what harm was done and how to repair the harm.

Click to learn more about restorative justice training workshops in August.

Click here for additional restorative justice resources.

Why does YWCA Madison use Restorative Justice?

YWCA Madison uses restorative justice to address the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline describes a pattern of criminalization of K-12 students linked to decreased graduation rates and increased likelihood of future involvement with the criminal justice system. Students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted.

Click here to learn more about the school-to-prison pipeline.

YWCA Madison Restorative Justice Program

Circle Process

YWCA uses peacekeeping circles as our primary tool for engaging young people in the restorative justice processes. This tradition originates from indigenous communities. In Circle, we use a talking piece to ensure that everyone has an equal voice. The Circle makes visible our interconnectedness, levels power and hierarchical relationships, and creates a safe space for healing and transformation.

School-based programming

Our program began as a pilot at Madison’s LaFollette High school in 2010. Each year, we have grown and changed to meet the needs of our partner schools.

Student training—We deliver a 9-lesson Restorative Justice Class for students in schools. This training includes lessons on restorative justice, the school-to-prison pipeline, examining privilege and oppression, empathy, consensus decision-making, and more. After students graduate, they become “Circle Keepers”. Circle Keepers are active leaders in their school communities, facilitating restorative justice circles both in classrooms and with individuals or small groups of their peers. Circle Keepers continue to meet as a group in bi-weekly Restorative Justice Clubs, where they deepen their exploration of social justice topics and continue to develop community within the school and with each other, leadership, advocacy, and social and emotional skills.

Staff training—In addition to our 3-day Restorative Justice Training Series offered at YWCA, we provide ongoing professional development and staff support at some of our partner schools in order to facilitate whole-school transition to a restorative approach.

Restorative justice circles—We use circles in school to resolve conflict, engage in accountability, and provide support for students and/or staff. We also use circles in classrooms to build community, create shared values & guidelines, and resolve whole-class issues.

Current partner schools:

Madison Metropolitan School District

  • Black Hawk Middle School
  • Cherokee Heights Middle School
  • O'Keefe Middle School
  • Sennett Middle School
  • Wright Middle School
Monona Grove School District
  • Glacial Drumlin School
  • Monona Grove High School
Sun Prairie School District
  • Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School ict
  • Middleton-Cross Plains School District

Interested in bringing restorative justice programming to your school? Contact Vanessa McDowell, Chief Programs Officer, for more information.

Community-based programming

The YWCA Restorative Justice Department is part of the Dane County Restorative Justice Collaborative. After receiving the Brighter Futures Initiative grant, this group launched a city-wide restorative justice initiative.

Every 12-16 year old issued a municipal ticket by the Madison Police is eligible to participate in restorative justice programming as an alternative to municipal court. Youth who successfully complete the restorative justice program will not have to appear in court and will have no criminal record of ticket or arrest. YWCA Madison Restorative Justice Department provides intake for eligible youth. We also provide programming at Centro Hispano, Meadowood Neighborhood Center, and Warner Park Recreation Center. Our partners at the Dane County Timebank and Briarpatch Youth Services provide additional community-based programming through this initiative.

Interested in volunteering in our community programs? Contact Eugenia Highland, Restorative Justice Manager, about upcoming volunteer info-sessions and trainings.

Program Development

Are you part of another YWCA affiliate? If yes, we can provide training, resources, curriculum, and technical support to get you started. Contact Vanessa McDowell, Chief Programs Officer, for more information.

Volunteer and Internships


Interested in volunteering in our community programs? Contact Eugenia Highland, Restorative Justice Manager, about upcoming volunteer info-sessions and trainings.

Youth facilitators—We are looking for high school and middle school students to facilitate restorative justice circles with their peers in the community.

Adult mentors—We are looking for adults to co-facilitate and participate in circles, and support youth in completing their restorative justice agreements. We are especially looking for volunteers with interests or skills in art, music, poetry, sports, etc. who could engage youth in learning or experiencing these activities.

Circle volunteer coordinators—For each community site, we need a lead volunteer to support the site coordinator in organizing other volunteers for circles.

Intake volunteers—We are looking for volunteers to call eligible youth and their families to engage them in restorative justice programming.


We partner with UW-Madison School of Social Work, UW-Madison School of Human Ecology, Madison College and Edgewood College to provide high-quality internship experiences with the YWCA Madison Restorative Justice Department. Interested in an internship or in connecting your students with internships? Contact Ali Treviño-Murphy, Restorative Justice Manager, for more information.

Get involved

Help the YWCA Madison bring restorative justice to Dane County by volunteering or donating.

  • race & gender equity 

    2014 Restorative Justice Outcomes 

    • 86% (159 out of 185) students who participate in a 2014 Restorative Justice referral circles showed attitude and behavioral improvements.
    • 75% of Restorative Justice participants feel more connected to their schools.
    • 233 school staff were trained in Restorative Justice Practices. The Restorative Justice program was held in 16 schools within 6 school districts.