Researchers Assess a Juvenile Justice Alternative
From January 2000 to April 2001, staff from the Community Justice Institute at Florida Atlantic University conducted a national study designed to answer basic questions about restorative conferencing, a non-adversarial alternative to court for juvenile crime offenders.
According to the principal investigator, restorative conferencing is designed to bring together all of the parties (the victim, juvenile offender, family and community representatives) affected by a criminal event to discuss how to repair the harm caused by the offense.
- The principal investigators published a book, Restorative Justice, Youth and Community: Theory, Policy and Practice.
- In the book and a prior article, the principal investigators found that 48 states have some form of restorative conferencing programs in place.
- They found that victim/offender mediation the oldest conferencing model is the most widely used.
- Most restorative conferencing programs handle low level charges such as minor assaults and property damage.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $178,783 to support the study from January 2000 through September 2003.
Restorative conferencing approaches include, but are not limited to:
- Victim/offender mediation and dialogue.
- Family group or community conferencing.
- Peacemaking/sentencing circles (see Glossary in the Appendix).
- Community boards and neighborhood accountability panels.
In addition to these models, many local variations have arisen in response to jurisdictional needs, issues and resources. Despite the growth of restorative conferencing, little was known about the scope, magnitude and effectiveness of the projects using this approach. Research in the field was in its infancy, leaving gaps in the most basic knowledge on:
- Where and how many conference programs are operating.
- The types of models being used.
- If restorative conferencing leads to increased community capacity necessary to exercise informal social control, resolve conflict and maintain a safe community environment.
From January 2000 to April 2001, the principal investigator conducted a national study to:
- Identify restorative conferencing programs in the United States.
- Assess in a general way, the restorativeness of each program based on restorative justice principles (repairing harm, stakeholder involvement and government and community relationships).
- Examine how restorative conferencing can build community capacity.
Though community building is not the primary focus of most restorative conferencing programs, some programs seek to enhance or strengthen community capacity by stressing relationship development and skill building strategies in the community.
Project staff conducted:
- An Internet search and interviews with juvenile justice specialists in each state to develop a national database of restorative conferencing programs.
- A national survey of 2,475 people (fielded in August 2000) that identified 773 restorative conferencing programs of which 218 programs responded to the survey and 181 responses were valid.
- Site visits to restorative conferencing programs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
- Intensive on-site work for two months at restorative conferencing programs in Denver and in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
- Two focus groups one convened in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with eight restorative conferencing practitioners and the other in Denver with eight practitioners from the intensive sites in Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The National Institute of Justice also contributed $179,626 toward the project.
The principal investigators published a book, Restorative Justice, Youth and Community: Theory, Policy and Practice, that provides an overview of the restorative justice conferencing programs currently in operation in the United States, paying particular attention to the qualitative dimensions. It is based on interviews, focus groups and ethnographic observation. It provides a view of restorative justice conferencing in practice, and what the people involved felt and thought about it.
The book looks at four structural variations in the face-to-face form of restorative decision-making: family group conferences, victim-offender mediation/dialogue, neighborhood accountability boards and peacemaking circles. An overriding concern of the book is to build and improve theory, guide future research and inform policy and practice in restorative justice decision-making. In doing so it addresses two issues that have received limited research emphasis in restorative justice:
- The lack of clear and consistent standards that can be used to gauge both the strength and consistency of restorative intervention.
- The absence of testable theories of intervention that reflect what has become a rather diverse practice. In response to this the authors conclude the book with a proposed structure for principle-based evaluation designed to test emerging theories of restorative decision-making.
Prior to publication of the book, project staff reported the study findings in two publications: a chapter in the book The Future of Restorative Justice, titled "Restorative Conferencing for Juveniles in the United States: Prevalence, Process, and Practice," and the article "Social Capital and Restorative Justice: Theory Building For Community Building in the Informal Response to Youth Crime," under review at the journal Sociological Perspectives (see the Bibliography):
- Forty-eight states have some form of restorative conferencing programs in place; however, states vary considerably in the number and variety of programs in operation and in the number of people served by these programs. Most of the 773 restorative conferencing programs in the United States are located in nine states (California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, New York, Ohio and Alaska).
- Victim/offender mediation (the oldest conferencing model) is the most widely used, followed by community and neighborhood boards, family and community conferencing and peacemaking circles.
- No single or simple strategy characterizes state implementation patterns.
- Single programs tend to offer several models of restorative conferencing interventions depending on the needs and wishes of the victims and offenders.
- Most restorative conferencing programs operate on a budget between $5,000 and $100,000, have less than one full-time paid staff member and rely on community volunteers.
- Referral sources tend to be probation and law enforcement agencies prior to formal court intervention.
- Most restorative conferencing programs handle low-level charges such as minor assault, property damage and personal theft.
- The data tentatively suggest that there is awareness of, and commitment to, restorative justice principles and practices among juvenile justice professionals. The numbers are too small to draw definite conclusions, but indicate programs are making an effort to integrate key restorative principles into their day-to-day work.
- Project staff identified three ways in which community capacity is fostered and/or strengthened by participation in restorative conferencing forums:
- Reduction in social distance.
- Identification of community support persons and resources.
- Values clarification regarding what juvenile behaviors are "off limits."
- Project staff also identified three areas where restorative conferencing may help to develop community competencies:
- Informal social control allowing community members to resolve crime problems before the criminal justice system gets involved.
- Social support or expanding the network of community relationships.
- Collective action (or working together) to realize collective community goals may begin in a restorative conferencing setting and move to other community domains.
Examples of limitations include:
- The exploratory sampling approach may have underestimated the actual numbers of restorative conferencing programs. The approach may uncover established and well-marketed programs and undercount newer and less established programs.
- The study did not examine the effectiveness of each program or classify all known program models.
- Program operators self-identified their program as restorative conferencing. The principal investigators had little opportunity to confirm the degree of consistency with restorative principles, leaving room for mischaracterization and inappropriate counting of programs.
- The survey response rate was low, allowing for only general assumptions about the restorative conferencing process. The findings cannot be considered representative of all the conferencing programs operating in the United States.
Restorative Justice, Youth and Community: Theory, Policy and Practice is available for purchase from International Specialized Book Services, 800-944-6190 or firstname.lastname@example.org), five book chapters (one of which is mentioned under Findings) and seven journal articles. See the Bibliography for a complete list of publications.
The project generated the following lessons:
- Spending extended time at study sites yields valuable information. By studying the Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul sites over a two-month period, the coordinators learned about issues and trends that occur over time that would have been impossible to capture in short two- to four-day site visits. (Project Director)
- When fielding large comprehensive surveys, one runs the risk of a lower response rate. Already overburdened public and nonprofit workers may find it to difficult to respond to a long, involved survey. (Project Director)
AFTER THE GRANT
The principal investigators continue to study and write about the restorative justice movement as it relates to juvenile justice.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Understanding Citizen Involvement in the Development of Community Capacity: An Exploratory Study
Florida Atlantic University (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Dates: January 2000 to September 2003
Gordon Bazemore, Ph.D.
Glossary of Terms
Sentencing circle or peacemaking circle: a community-directed process, conducted in partnership with the criminal justice system, to develop consensus on an appropriate sentencing plan. The circle involves the victim, victim supporters, the offender, offender supporters, judge and court personnel, prosecutor, defense counsel, police and all interested community members. Within the circle, people can speak from the heart in a shared search for understanding of the event, and together identify the steps necessary to assist in healing all affected parties and prevent future crimes. (From "Restorative Justice Fact Sheet," U.S. Department of Justice.)
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Bazemore G and Schiff M. Juvenile Justice Reform and Restorative Justice: Building Theory and Policy from Practice. Portland, Ore: Willan Publishing, 2004.
Bazemore G and Erbe C. "Reintegration and Restorative Justice: Toward a Theory and Practice of Informal Social Control and Support." In After Crime and Punishment: Ex-Offender Reintegration and Desistance from Crime. Maruna S and Immarigeon R (eds.). Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2002.
Bazemore G and McLoed C. "Restorative Justice and the Future of Diversion and Informal Social Control." In The Future of Restorative Justice. Weitekampe E and Kerner H (eds.). Portland, Ore.: Willan Publishing, 2002.
Schiff M and Bazemore G. "Restorative Conferencing for Juveniles in the United States: Prevalence, Practice and Process." In The Future of Restorative Justice. Weitekampe E and Kerner H (eds.). Portland, Ore.: Willan Publishing, 2002.
Bazemore G and Karp D. "Community Justice Sanctioning Models: Assessing Program Integrity." In Restorative Justice and Corrections. Perry J (ed.). Washington: American Corrections Association, 2002.
Bazemore G and O'Brien S. "The Quest for a Restorative Model of Rehabilitation: Theory-For-Practice and Practice-For Theory." In Restorative Justice and the Law. Walgrave L (ed.). Portland, Ore.: Willan Publishing, 2002.
Bazemore G, Karp D and Schiff M. "Social Capital and Restorative Justice: Theory Building for Community Building in the Informal Response to Youth Crime." Unpublished.
Bazemore G and Stinchcomb J. "A Civic Engagement Model of Reentry: Involving Community Through Service and Restorative Justice." Federal Probation, 68(2): 1424, 2004.
Karp D, Bazemore G and Chesire J. "The Role and Attitudes of Restorative Board Members: A Case Study of Volunteers in Community Justice." Crime & Delinquency, 50(4): 487515, October 2004.
Karp D, Sweet M, Kirshenbaum A and Bazemore G. "Reluctant Participants in Restorative Justice? Youthful Offenders and their Parents." Contemporary Justice Review, 7(2): 199216, 2004.
Hines D and Bazemore G. "Restorative Policing, Conferencing and Community Building." Police Practice and Research: An International Journal, 4(4): 441427, 2003.
Bazemore G and Erbe C. "Operationalizing the Community Variable in Offender Reintegration: Theory and Practice for Developing Intervention Social Capital." Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 1(10): 246275, 2003.
Bazemore G. "Young People, Trouble and Crime: Restorative Justice as a Normative Theory of Informal Social Control and Social Support." Youth and Society, 33(2): 199226, 2001.
"Understanding Restorative Conferencing: A Case Study in Informal Decisionmaking in the Response to Youth Crime." Final Report submitted to the National Institute of Justice. Grant 1999-IJ-CK-0060, June 2002.
Report prepared by: Barbara Matacera Barr
Reviewed by: Kelsey Menehan
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: M. Katherine Kraft