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III. Restorative Justice: Program Adaptations

Program models that reflect restorative justice principles to varying degrees include community reparation boards, family group conferences, circle sentencing, and victim-offender mediation (VOM) (Bazemore and Griffiths, 1997). There are many others, but these types are the most frequently used today.

Community reparation boards, as practiced in Vermont, encourage victim involvement, but the extent of victim participation varies considerably. Community reparation boards in the Vermont Reparative Probation Program are responsible for monitoring contract compliance, whether offenders and victims have worked out mutually acceptable restitution agreements or whether an agreement has been established by the board or some other judicially empowered authority. These boards often refer victims and offenders to mediation, although such referrals are not mandatory.

Family group conferences, developed in Australia and New Zealand and replicated elsewhere, focus heavily on the needs of the offender by shaming the offender and reintegrating him or her back into the community. While some importance is assigned to meeting with victims—not necessarily the specific victims of the offender's actions—and representatives of the larger community, the emphasis is on educating the offender. The more the victim perspective is developed as a counterbalance to retributive justice by giving attention to reparation, empowerment, and support, the more family group conferencing fits into the restorative justice framework.

Circle sentencing places considerable emphasis on victim needs. The impetus for the program comes from the community. Victims, representatives of the community, and elders meet with the offender. Victims are encouraged to tell their stories to their neighbors, who are present in the circle. Offenders are present and may also have friends and relatives present. The goal of the process is to develop consensus on an appropriate sentencing plan that addresses the concerns of all parties. Maintaining a balance between the needs of both victim and offender is a continuing struggle.

Victim-offender mediation strives to balance the needs of victims and offenders and is practiced in a variety of ways in many States, provinces, and countries. In VOM programs, the victim meets with the offender after the program's staff has completed preparatory work with each participant. Sharing the stories of the victim's and offender's experiences and working out ways for the offender to repair damages to the victim and the community are emphasized.

Each program, along with many others, pursues restorative justice frameworks in real-world settings. Although the implementation of restorative justice principles has made a considerable impact on the criminal justice process, much more needs to be done to change the system's emphasis from retributive to restorative. Legal, procedural, and attitudinal constraints of the existing formal justice system, expectations of key participants, and inertia in the face of change inhibit progress.

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Multicultural Implications of Restorative Justice:
Potential Pitfalls and Dangers
April 2000
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