| The abuses and virtual exclusion
of crime victims and their perspective in the decision-making
process of many juvenile courts are widely acknowledged and well
To a large extent, judges have
been left to defend the treatment ethic of the juvenile court
in the face of an onslaught by policymakers and new statutes
that have usurped much of the court's traditional discretion
over delinquent youth and have mandated a much more punitive
For the past century, America's
juvenile court system has focused on its mandate to act in "the best
interest of the child" when dealing with young offenders. However,
the past two decades have seen a move toward more punitive approaches
and procedures in juvenile courts and justice systems that now make
it difficult to distinguish them from criminal courts (Feld, B., 1990,
1993). Although expansion in punishment and formalized procedures
has moved juvenile courts away from the exclusive focus on the "best
interests of the child" (young offenders) (Lemov, P., 1994), it did
not move the courts toward "the best interests of the victim." Only
very recently have some juvenile justice professionals begun to pay
attention to victims' needs.
During the 1980s and 1990s, victims'
rights were expanded in criminal courts. In stark contrast, victims
in the juvenile justice system continued to have few rights. Recently,
this lack of victims' rights in juvenile courts came to the attention
of policymakers and professionals. The American Correctional Association
Victims Committee published the Report and Recommendations on Victims
of Juvenile Offenders (Seymour, A., and S. English, 1994) stating,
"Victims should not be discriminated against solely due to the age
of their offender."
The recent developments highlighted
below provide promise for changing the role of victims in juvenile
justice systems and for changing how juvenile courts view victim involvement
in court proceedings:
||Twenty-nine states have
passed constitutional amendments for victims' rights, including
notification, input, restitution, and protection. Many of these
amendments extend expanded rights to victims of juveniles and
to victims of adult offenders.
||In many states, the traditional cloak
of secrecy that once covered juvenile courts is being lifted by
new statutes. Crime victims and their allies are serving as the
key proponents of this movement to increase victim involvement in
and knowledge about juvenile court proceedings.
||By summer 1997, a total of 30 states
and many local jurisdictions had adopted legislation or policies
based on the Balanced and Restorative Justice model (O'Brien, S.,
1999). Providing a new mission and framework for juvenile justice,
this model incorporates the needs and interestsof the victim, the
community, and the youthful offender. This restorative justice trend
is potentially one of the most significant factors driving change
in the role of crime victims in America's juvenile courts.
Although changes in juvenile probation
and corrections programs are already under way to involve victims
and better address their needs (Seymour, A., 1997; Wilkinson, R.,
1997), meaningful change in the juvenile court process is impossible
without the support of judges as juvenile court leaders. Although
most judges are not insensitive to the needs of crime victims (Leip,
L., and G. Bazemore, in press), it is important to reflect upon two
key factors that seem to determine the success or failure of most
judges in responding sensitively to crime victims. First, does the
judge make changes in his or her court that might improve services
for victims of juvenile crime? And, second, does the judge provide
for victims' meaningful involvement and input into the juvenile justice
With regard to the first factor, too
few juvenile court judges have been engaged in training, dialogue,
and initiatives to improve juvenile court responsiveness to victims.
Too often, crime victims and their advocates speak only to each other,
to researchers, and to policy and program development professionals.
Judges seldom have opportunities to be educated about and explore
alternatives to policies, procedures, and administrative protocols
that contribute to victim frustration. Previous forums and research
studies have effectively identified problems in juvenile courts from
a crime victim's perspective, including problems in court culture
and the behavior of individual juvenile court judges (Young, M., 1995).
However, there have been few opportunities to hear from judges on
these issues and little chance to conduct joint dialogue, consensus
building, strategic planning, and mutual problem solving between judges
and crime victims.
With regard to the second factor, until
recently judges have had few incentives to implement changes to make
their courts more responsive to victim concerns. In general, juvenile
courts have been slow to develop policies to mandate, authorize, or
encourage judges to devote greater attention to the needs of crime
victims or to invite increased victim involvement into the court process.
Furthermore, little persuasive logic has been offered by the judiciary,
criminal justice researchers, or victim advocates to link the victims'
agenda either to the traditional individual treatment and best interests
mandates of juvenile courts or to the new retributive juvenile
justice agenda. While more victims' rights legislation and policies
are clearly on the horizon for juvenile courts in many states, most
juvenile courts and juvenile justice systems responding to these new
mandates must do so in the absence of a mission or a model policy
or a philosophical framework (Bazemore, G., and M. Umbreit, 1995).
This lack of guidance will make it difficult for these juvenile courts
and justice systems to integrate crime victims' needs and concerns
with other rationales for justifying the existence of a distinctive
court and justice system for juveniles.
What Is Restorative Justice
justice is a new way of thinking about and responding to crime.
It emphasizes one fundamental fact: Crime damages people, communities,
and relationships. If crime is about harm, then the justice process
should emphasize repairing the harm. As a vision for systemic
juvenile justice reform, restorative justice suggests that the
response to youth crime must strike a balance among the needs
of victims, offenders, and communities, encouraging each to be
actively involved to the greatest extent possible in the justice
process. Restorative justice builds on traditional positive community
values and on some of the most effective sanctioning practices,
including victim-offender mediation, various community decisionmaking
and conferencing processes (for example, reparative boards, family
group conferencing, and circle sentencing), restorative community
service, restitution, victim and community impact statements,
and victim awareness panels.
The most new and important ideas
in restorative justice are expressed in a set of principles
that redefines the way justice systems address public safety,
sanctioning, and rehabilitative objectives. Specifically, when
crime is understood as harm and justice is understood as repair
and/or healing, and when the importance of active participation
by victims and community members in response to crime is emphasized,
basic community needs are understood and addressed in a different
Today, when a crime is committed,
most juvenile justice professionals are primarily concerned
with three questions: Who did it? What laws were broken? What
should be done to punish or treat the offender? Although questions
of guilt, lawbreaking, and appropriate intervention are certainly
vital to prosecutors, these questions alone may lead to a limited
range of interventions based solely on treatment and punishment,
which cannot meet the complex needs of the community, victim,
offender, and family.
Viewed through the restorative
lens, crime is understood in a broader context than what is
suggested by the questions of guilt and how to punish or treat
the offender. Howard Zehr (1990) argues that in restorative
justice three very different questions receive primary emphasis:
What is the nature of the harm resulting from the crime? What
needs to be done to "make it right" or repair the harm? Who
is responsible for the repair?
Defining the harm and determining
what should be done to repair it are best accomplished with
input from crime victims, citizens, and offenders in a decisionmaking
process that maximizes their participation. The decision about
who is responsible for the repair focuses attention on the future
rather than the past and also sets up a different configuration
of obligations in response to the crime.
No longer simply the object of
punishment, the offender is now primarily responsible for repairing
the harm caused by his or her crime. A restorative juvenile
court and justice system would, in turn, be responsible for
ensuring that the offender is held accountable for the damage
and suffering caused both to victims and victimized communities
by supporting, facilitating, and enforcing reparative agreements.
But, most important, crime victims and the community play critical
roles in setting the terms of accountability and monitoring
and supporting completion of obligations.
If crime victims and the community
are to become fully engaged as active participants in the response
to youth crime, juvenile justice professionals must begin to
think about these stakeholders in different ways. To move forward
with this new agenda, it is very important to understand the
potential role of crime victims as key stakeholders in the response
to youth crime. In addition, the role of the professional and
the mandate of the juvenile justice system are likely to change.
Bazemore, G., and M. Umbreit, Conferences,
Circles, Boards, and Mediations: Restorative Justice and Citizen
Involvement in the Response to Youth Crime, Washington,
DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Balanced
and Restorative Justice Project, U.S. Department of Justice,
and Juvenile Court Reform
Through Restorative Justice