Chapter 3: Balanced and Restorative Juvenile Corrections
Historical Perspective

Deterrence, punishment, and incapacitation are bywords in today's American justice system. Offender rehabilitation, however, remains a prominent theme, especially within the juvenile justice system, where it is acknowledged that youth are not fully developed and need to be nurtured toward productive, law-abiding maturity. However, these beliefs have not always been held as indisputable truths. Earlier societies, along with some indigenous people today, used other means to achieve "justice."

From 1792 to 1750 B.C., King Hammurabi ruled Babylon, and during this time, an extensive written code of laws was engraved in stone. Called the Code of Hammurabi today, it consisted of a collection of 282 judgments used in actual cases during that time. Principles undergirding this code included "the strong should not injure the weak and . . . punishment should fit the crime." These laws often prescribed "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1993). According to these case laws, if someone wronged another, repayment (often with interest) or a punishment in kind was required (Klein, 1996).

Many other legal perspectives have influenced present U.S. laws, including Roman Law, religious canons, and English Common Law. King William I, who conquered England in 1066, imposed royal authority on the courts to ensure the supremacy of the King. He decreed that crimes were a disruption "of the King's peace." Offenders were held accountable to the King's Courts rather than to their victims and communities. This system bolstered the King's power over his subjects and increased his wealth, in that fines were paid to the court rather than restitution being paid to victims (Quinn, 1996).

The result is a modern justice system that focuses on symbolic punishment by the State rather than accountability of offenders to their victims (Pranis, 1998b). American justice has evolved to a structure that generally is controlled by the State and focused on the offender. Consequently, burgeoning criminal and juvenile justice systems process millions of cases annually. Greater numbers of offenders are incarcerated, supervised, and "treated" each year.

Several factors, however, focus on the need for reassessment and change in how the justice system does business. Beginning with the victims' and women's rights movements in the 1970's, the needs of the wronged victim and the community gained greater recognition. Restorative justice approaches promote an understanding of justice as caring, emphasize appreciating the context of each situation, and foster relationships and mutuality. In addition, awareness of varied cultural practices and other cultures' justice processes underscore the possibility of a different conceptualization of justice. The sheer cost of the present criminal and juvenile justice systems and their lack of effectiveness in many cases have led to consideration of change (Pranis, 1998b).

At present, the criminal and juvenile justice systems find themselves being redefined and reshaped. In contention are at least three different perspectives:

  • Retribution or punishment through deterrence, just deserts, and incapacitation.

  • Offender rehabilitation to reduce recidivism and prevent future crimes.

  • Balanced and Restorative Justice combining goals to hold youth accountable for amending the harm caused to victims and communities, to develop greater competencies for youth to lead prosocial and productive lives, and to protect the public.

The public and criminal justice leaders often advocate for and debate the merits of these various approaches. It is likely, as shifts occur, that there will be a need to incorporate some aspects of all three perspectives. However, the priorities and overarching conceptualizations of justice may indeed change. Table 3:a provides a brief comparison of these three concepts of justice.

Table 3:a Comparison of Three Juvenile Justice Approaches
Criteria Retributive Justice Offender Rehabilitation Balanced and Restorative Justice
Primary focus of attention The criminal offense as a crime against the State. Offenders. Victims and community.
Goals/methods Goal: Safe communities and improved quality of life through...
Deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation.
Rehabilitation of offenders and reduction of recidivism. Restoration of victims and community; reparation of harm.
Role of government Extensive. Moderate. Limited.
Principal procedures Surveillance and isolation of offenders from community. Treatment to improve offender functioning. Personal interactions.
Community members involved Offenders and juvenile justice agencies and personnel. Offenders, juvenile justice agencies, and select community agencies. Victim, offender, community members, juvenile justice professionals.
Flow of resources From victims and community to criminal justice services. From offenders, victims, and community to treatment programs. From offenders to victims and community.

Chapter 3 Contents

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Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package for Juvenile Corrections Report - December 2000