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During the past several years, family group conferencing (FGC) models used in New Zealand and Australia have received considerable attention in North America. Representatives from both countries have lectured and provided training workshops throughout the United States and Canada. Audiences have ranged from those in the victim-offender mediation (VOM) and restorative justice movements to many law enforcement officers, school officials, and a growing number of victim advocates.

This attention has resulted in the introduction of a number of pilot projects and new program initiatives that incorporate some form of the FGC approach. One Pennsylvania-based organization, REAL JUSTICE, is vigorously promoting a specific police- and school-based model that originated in Wagga Wagga, Australia. REAL JUSTICE has trained hundreds of police officers and school staff members and is working to replicate this Australian model in a number of sites. The Minnesota Legislature funded the development of FGC pilot projects using the REAL JUSTICE model in nine communities in the First Judicial District.

Rarely has a new criminal justice idea received such extensive exposure to and interest from audiences as widespread as activists, professionals, and the general public in such a short period of time. No other restorative justice approach has so quickly brought such large numbers of law enforcement officials to the table as active stakeholders in the restorative justice movement.

What Is Restorative Justice?
By Mark S. Umbreit, Ph.D., Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking
University of Minnesota School of Social Work

Restorative justice is a victim-centered response to crime that allows the victim, the offender, their families, and representatives of the community to address the harm caused by the crime. Restorative justice emphasizes the importance of providing opportunities for more active involvement in the process of offering support and assistance to crime victims; holding offenders directly accountable to the people and communities they have violated; restoring the emotional and material losses of victims (to the degree possible); providing a range of opportunities for dialogue and problem solving to interested crime victims, offenders, families, and other support persons; offering offenders opportunities for competency development and reintegration into productive community life; and strengthening public safety through community building.

Restorative justice policies and programs are developing in more than 45 States, including a growing number of State and county justice systems that are undergoing major systemic changes. Restorative justice is also developing in many other parts of the world, including numerous European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The principles of restorative justice draw upon the wisdom of many cultures throughout the world, most notably American-Indian cultures within the United States and aboriginal cultures within Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Specific examples of restorative justice initiatives include crime repair crews, victim intervention programs, family group conferencing, victim-offender mediation and dialogue, peacemaking circles, victim panels that address offenders, sentencing circles, community reparative boards before which offenders appear, offender competency development programs, victim empathy classes for offenders, victim-directed and citizen-involved community service by the offender, community-based support groups for crime victims, and community-based support groups for offenders. As the oldest and most widely developed expression of restorative justice, having been in use more than 25 years and the subject of numerous studies in North America and Europe, victim-offender mediation and dialogue programs currently work with thousands of cases annually through more than 300 programs in the United States and more than 700 in Europe.

Research has found that restorative justice programs provide higher levels of victim and offender satisfaction with the process and outcome and a greater likelihood of successful restitution completion by the offender than traditional justice programs. Research has also shown that restorative justice programs have reduced fear among victims and decreased the frequency and severity of further criminal behavior among offenders.

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Family Group Conferencing: Implications for Crime Victims April 2000
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