Chapter 3: Balanced and Restorative Juvenile Corrections
Benefits and Caveats for Balanced and Restorative Justice

Balanced and Restorative Justice models and programs are gaining wider acceptance as communities and juvenile justice practitioners recognize many of the advantages this approach provides. However, as with most other strategies, it is not a panacea, and certain considerations are warranted.

Some of the more commonly recognized benefits of Balanced and Restorative Justice include (Quinn, 1998; Umbreit, 1997):

  • Active involvement of all those affected by juvenile crime—victims, offenders and their families, communities, and juvenile justice personnel.

  • Accountability of the offender to the victim and/or community for the harm caused.

  • Restoration of victim and/or community losses by youth.

  • Development of youths' competencies so they are more capable of leading prosocial lifestyles.

  • Balanced attention to youth accountability, competency development, and community protection.

  • Development of stronger alliances among community and juvenile justice agencies and professionals.

  • Diversion of minor cases and more rapid disposition of many cases.

  • Alleviation of overcrowded programs.

  • Potential for lowered costs of juvenile justice programs.

However, Balanced and Restorative Justice can encounter resistance and other problems as it is studied and implemented in jurisdictions, including the following (Bazemore and Umbreit, 1994; Quinn, 1998):

  • Reluctance to embrace new philosophies and approaches is common among citizens and program staff; previous endorsement of retributive and rehabilitative approaches may linger; and development of true consensus is a slow and painstaking process.

  • Hesitancy of some victims to participate is also common because they fear revictimization, which has frequently occurred in traditional justice settings.

  • Confinement may be the best means to ensure community protection with the most serious and violent offenders; however, this may limit opportunities for accountability to victims and competency development for youth.

  • Limited community involvement, following a long history of justice system dominance, may require patience and persistence to engage community residents in a new approach to juvenile justice.

  • Concern may emerge regarding procedural and due process issues for youthful offenders.

  • Consideration of possible inequities as cases are handled with individualized attention.

  • Requirements for new skills and roles, increased training, and different demands on juvenile justice professionals may be difficult to implement.

Program Examples

As yet, few, if any, jurisdictions have fully implemented a Balanced and Restorative Justice model that defines the entire focus and activities of the juvenile justice system. However, many agencies and jurisdictions have made significant strides toward such a goal. Various program models provide examples for jurisdictions wanting to shift toward Balanced and Restorative Justice. Many of these ideas are innovative, and there is still room for a great deal of creativity in designing Balanced and Restorative Justice programs.

Family and Community Involvement. Many American Indian and other indigenous people around the globe have forums, such as family gatherings and talking circles, presided over by family elders or community leaders. Interpersonal issues are usually the focus of these encounters, and traditional tribal laws and practices are followed (Melton, 1996).

The Honorable Robert Yazzie (1997) describes the Navajo response to crime as one that includes a "peacemaker," the victim and his or her family, the offender and his or her family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who is involved in the matter or affected by it. These people are engaged in a "talking out" process that includes a traditional opening prayer, venting, and discussion to reach a consensus about what should be done. The goal of this process is not punishment or correction of a person; rather, the aim is correction of the action and remedy of the harm caused by the offender's conduct. Families of both the offenders and victims are involved in order to help speak for the offenders and to take responsibility for their relatives.

New Zealand has developed a system of family group conferences for juvenile justice cases based on a tradition of the indigenous aboriginal Maori people. The victim and offender and both of their families come together for a conference facilitated by a social service worker. This approach involves a discussion of the impact of the crime on the victim and the community and public shaming of the deed (not the offender). The offender earns his or her way back into the community's favor. This program has been evaluated and shown to be effective in diverting cases from prosecution and reducing commitments to youth corrections facilities (Quinn, 1996).

In Austin, Texas, community volunteers serve on neighborhood conference committees to hear youth diversion cases. Referred cases usually involve first-time offenders who have committed nonweapon misdemeanors. The committee holds separate interviews with the youth and parents. It determines appropriate sanctions and develops a contract specifying restitution to victims and restoration to the neighborhood. All involved (youth, parents, and community members) sign the contract, which also includes reintegration and acceptance of the youth back into the community after completing the contract requirements (Pranis, 1998a).

Involvement of Other Community Systems and Professionals. The justice system cannot single-handedly mediate all law violations and civil disagreements. On the contrary, educational systems, child welfare programs, mental health providers, and other community resources should be enlisted to share in the mission and delivery of restorative justice. For example, schools can incorporate conflict resolution skills, peer mediation, and other skill development into the curriculum. Schools can be peace sites and use appropriate and constructive disciplinary approaches (Anderson, 1996).

Victim-Offender Reconciliation and Mediation Programs. These programs involve face-to-face meetings between victims and offenders. Both parties tell their account of the incident, and a trained mediator helps them discuss the harm and negotiate an agreement (Gehm, 1995). Victim-Offender Reconciliation and Mediation Programs vary widely. They may be situated in executive, judicial, or community agencies. Some are related to religious and other nonprofit and volunteer organizations. The origin of referrals may vary among police, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, victims' advocates, and others. The timing of victim-offender meetings ranges from preadjudication to postplacement. Types of crimes and offenders for whom victim-offender reconciliation or mediation programs are used are also diverse. Age, type of crime, and emotional state are some of the factors used to determine eligibility (Fahey, 1997).

Community Prosecution. Growing caseloads, crowded corrections programs, and overburdened professionals are among the realities with which prosecutors must contend when making charging decisions and pretrial detention and sentencing recommendations about juveniles. In Dakota County, Minnesota, the County Attorney diverts many first-time juvenile offenders from the formal court process. This is done with the condition that the offenders pay victims restitution and perform 15-35 hours of community work service. The diverted juveniles and their parents also are required to attend educational classes related to restoration of community values, respect for others, and healthy decisionmaking (Rubin, 1997).

Community Courts. Judicial leaders can be instrumental in implementing restorative justice programs, such as the ones in Dakota County, Minnesota. Dispositions of juvenile cases often include orders to pay victim restitution, perform community work service, and write letters of apology to victims. Juvenile offenders may be given the option of performing community work service or making a cash donation to a victim restitution fund (Rubin, 1997).

Peer Courts. A growing movement among juvenile justice, education, and other youth service agencies is the development of peer courts (also called youth courts and teen courts). These vary widely in format and function. Some are based on a more traditional perspective of juvenile justice. However, the Red Hook Youth Court, operating in Brooklyn, New York, has incorporated the use of positive peer pressure in a Balanced and Restorative Justice framework.

Youth ages 10-15 may be referred to the Youth Court by two police precincts if they are arrested for vandalism, public drinking, or other low-level crimes. Participation in the Youth Court program is voluntary, and offenders must admit their guilt and agree to have their sentences determined by a jury of teens. The Youth Court "combines punishment and help, teaching youth that all crime has consequences and linking them to social services as needed" (Red Hook Youth Court, n.d.).

A peer youth advocate interviews the offender to learn about the offense and the offender's history before the court proceedings begin. At the hearing, the community advocate describes the harm done to the community, making clear the repercussions of the offense. Jury members directly question the offender about the offense and the offender's circumstances, reasons for committing the crime, and pressures the youth is experiencing. The jury then deliberates and determines an appropriate sanction (Sarah Bryer, Red Hook Youth Court, personal communication to Tracy Godwin, April 22, 1998).

Sentences are intended to hold offenders accountable for their actions by paying back the community. Community service (with an educational component), letters of apology, essays, or afterschool workshops are examples of sanctions imposed. Staff monitor youthful offenders to ensure they complete the mandated sentences. Staff also refer youth to appropriate social services after assessing their needs. These include services such as mentoring, tutoring, and substance abuse counseling, which may be included as part of a youths' sentence (Red Hook Youth Court, n.d.).

Youth volunteers receive extensive training for performing their various roles. Teamwork is encouraged, and youth volunteers actively engage in their own self-governance (Sarah Bryer, Red Hook Youth Court, personal communication to Tracy Godwin, April 22, 1998).

Community Corrections. There are many examples of ways Balanced and Restorative Justice principles can be implemented in community corrections agencies to make communities safer, hold youth accountable, and develop youths' competencies while strengthening the community's ability to address its own needs. Placing probation offices in neighborhoods from which youth come and assigning probation officers to particular geographic areas facilitate communication with victims and community members and problem-solving work within the neighborhood (Dickey, 1996).

The Community Intensive Supervision Program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, operates in four neighborhood centers around the city. After school, high-risk program youth report to the centers, where they are tested for drug use, complete homework, and perform community service in their own neighborhoods. These youth have cleared vacant lots, planted community gardens, and helped register voters. Money that they earn repays victims. At night, they are escorted home and placed on electronic monitoring (Klein, 1996). This model addresses community safety, accountability, and competency development goals.

Vermont has developed the reparative probation program consisting of five or six trained community volunteers who form a citizen reparative board. The program diverts many cases from traditional probation services, allowing more resources to be allocated toward the most serious offenders. Judges may place offenders in a reparative program if they admit their guilt, are deemed willing to avoid further offenses, and agree to complete the conditions imposed by the community reparative board. Examples of offenses that might qualify an offender for the program include possession of stolen property, retail theft, bad checks, use of forged credit cards, and similar nonviolent crimes. The offender comes before the community reparative board, and the offense and its effect on victims are discussed. Victims are invited, but not required, to participate. The board considers and concurs with a restorative agreement and then discusses it with the offender. Sanctions are explained, and all parties sign an agreement stating what the offender must do. Four goals are considered for offenders: (1) restore victims, (2) make amends to the community, (3) learn how their crime impacts victims and the community, and (4) learn ways to avoid reoffending (Dooley, 1996:32-33). The board's expectations of offenders might include written apologies, victim restitution, community service, participation in skill development courses, victim-offender mediation, and family group conferences. Compliance with these conditions is monitored by the community reparative board. This process shifts responsibility away from the corrections department and toward the community, families, and offenders (Dooley, 1996; Sinkinson and Broderick, 1997).

The Juvenile Reparation Program in Elkhart, Indiana, targets older juveniles who usually are repeat offenders. Staff help these youth develop a contract including accountability to their victims and the community and competency development goals. Contracts frequently include restitution, volunteer community service, and victim-offender mediation. Self-improvement goals are set as well. Community safety is ensured through home confinement (except when engaged in approved activities). Volunteer telephone monitors provide encouragement and see that youth abide by the home restriction conditions of the program (Pranis, 1998a).

The Deschutes County, Oregon, Probation Department developed a Restorative Justice Corps that provides community work service opportunities for offenders. Offenders have built a 70-bed shelter for the homeless, stocked firewood for low-income elderly residents, and accomplished other services for the community (Klein, 1996).

Dakota County, Minnesota, has developed a Crime Repair Crew for both juvenile and adult probationers. The purpose of the program is to repair property that has been damaged by criminal activity. Victims are informed of the availability of the service by law enforcement officers when they answer complaints. The victim may then contact the program to schedule the needed repairs. These crews can perform tasks such as replacing broken windows, removing graffiti, and repairing damages caused by vandalism. In addition to restoring the damages inflicted on victims and learning valuable skills, offenders also are exposed to the offensive destruction caused by other offenders (Rubin, 1997).

Institutional Corrections. Balanced and Restorative Justice approaches also can be incorporated in residential and youth confinement facilities. Although the concept of restorative justice would place only the most violent or persistent offenders away from the community in jails and prisons, it is still possible to provide opportunities for them to experience the benefits of giving back something to the community. Lund (1997) describes her encounters with restorative justice concepts in the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee (for adults). She participated in a speakers' bureau through which she gave talks to teenagers in area high schools about her personal story and attempted to reach at-risk youth with a message of avoiding criminal behavior. As a way of giving back something to the community, she also raised a puppy that was later turned over for specialized training to assist an impaired person. Finally, she took part in a project sponsored by the prison that allowed inmates to assist elderly and indigent people in the community with home repairs and other household tasks. Another project at the prison allowed inmates to assist a local elementary school through fundraising, cleaning the school and grounds, and making and donating needed items such as banners, costumes for the children, and benches and boxes. Lund says these opportunities allow incarcerated women to learn to care for others. She says, "They get a chance to make a difference and they are learning that it feels really good to affect someone's life in a positive way. Restorative justice is more than it appears on the surface because the more you do it the more you learn about and care for yourself, others, and the world around you" (Lund, 1997:55).

In a national park in the Florida Everglades, serious juvenile offenders are experiencing a Balanced and Restorative Justice program. The youth are confined because the wildlife preserve is surrounded by water and swampland; thus, issues of community safety are addressed. However, the youth work with national park staff to maintain and restore parts of the wildlife refuge. Their educational program emphasizes environmental preservation and related careers to develop their competencies. Youth are paid for work, and they are held accountable to victims by having restitution amounts (or contributions to a victims fund) deducted from their paychecks. They also perform unpaid community service. Victim panels help youth become more aware of victims' needs and perspectives. These program efforts continue after youth return home, again addressing a public safety goal (Bazemore and Washington, 1995).

Mika and Zehr (1997) have suggested 10 signposts of restorative justice that are listed in Table 3:f. Perhaps program efforts should be compared with these indicators of restorative justice programs.

Table 3:f Restorative Justice Signposts
We are working toward restorative justice when we:

  1. Focus on the harms of wrongdoing more than the rules that have been broken.

  2. Show equal concern and commitment to victims and offenders, involving both in the process of justice.

  3. Work toward the restoration of victims, empowering them and responding to their needs as they see them.

  4. Support offenders while encouraging them to understand, accept, and carry out their obligations.

  5. Recognize that, while obligations may be difficult for offenders, they should not be intended as harms, and they must be achievable.

  6. Provide opportunities for dialogue, direct or indirect, between victims and offenders, as appropriate.

  7. Involve and empower the affected community through the justice process, and increase its capacity to recognize and respond to community bases of crime.

  8. Encourage collaboration and reintegration rather than coercion and isolation.

  9. Give attention to the unintended consequences of our actions and programs.

  10. Show respect to all parties including victims, offenders, and justice colleagues.

Source: Mika, H., and Zehr, H., 1997. Used with permission.

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Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package for Juvenile Corrections Report - December 2000