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Project Purpose and Methodology

he purpose of this project was to gain meaningful input from judges and crime victims about the following:

How the court responds to viewing the victim as a "client" of the juvenile court.

How to remove obstacles to increasing victim involvement.

How to improve services and responsiveness to victims.

How to solve problems in meeting the needs of victims.

In addition, the project provided a demonstration of the value of structured, honest, and meaningful dialogue among juvenile court judges, crime victims, and community members. As a result of the project, such structured dialogue is already being replicated in followup focus groups in several jurisdictions.

The project's strategy was to build upon existing state and local support for restorative justice initiatives and victim empowerment through guided focus group discussions. Local court jurisdictions in four participating states were chosen because the state had recently adopted, or was in the process of developing, new victims' rights legislation relevant to victims of juvenile offenders, and the state had recently adopted new policies and/or statutes based upon the balanced approach and restorative justice. The four focus group sites were Harrisburg, PA, St. Paul, MN, West Palm Beach, FL, and Sacramento, CA.

Victim participants in 1 state were selected from a random pool derived from a list of 30 cases identified by the court. Since this approach was not viable in the remaining three states, victim advocates generated a list of potential participants. The 18 victim participants selected included 9 victims of violent crimes and 9 victims of property crimes. Judge participants were identified through lists provided by judicial training organizations in each regional circuit. A total of 20 judges participated in the 4 focus groups. Diversity of gender, age, ethnicity, and political philosophy was achieved in both the victim and judge groups.

Each forum began with an overview of the project goals, a brief review of state and national changes in victims' rights legislation affecting juvenile courts, and a short presentation of restorative justice principles and practices. The protocol for each focus group process included the following:

Consideration of a series of questions designed to elicit responses about victims' roles and needs throughout the juvenile justice process.

Discussion of what a "continuum of services" for victims within the juvenile court should include.

Identification of barriers to victim services within the juvenile court setting and discussion of how to overcome them.

Development of recommendations for improving juvenile court and the juvenile justice system.

Two detailed discussion guides containing the questions were developed by the project staff. Judges, victims, and victim advocates were divided into separate groups and asked identical questions. Opportunities were provided for the groups to share ideas with the entire group and for discussion among the combined group of victims, victim advocates, and judges. Individual worksheets asked participants to rank the importance of the barriers to victim involvement and application of restorative justice practices. This stimulated the expression of opinions, even among the less outgoing participants.

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Victims, Judges, and Juvenile Court Reform
Through Restorative Justice
October 2000
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