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Practice Profile

Restorative Justice Programs for Juveniles

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Attitudes & Beliefs - Victims’ perceptions of fairness
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Justice Systems or Processes - Compliance with restitution/fines/payments
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Justice Systems or Processes - Offenders’ reparations

Practice Description

Practice Goals
In restorative justice programs, crime is viewed as a violation of people and their relationships; crime harms both the victim and the wider community (Zehr 2002; Wilson et al. 2017). Compared with the traditional criminal justice system, restorative justice programs focus more on healing than punishment and gives victims (and the community) a voice in the process. The fundamental premise of restorative justice programs is repairing the damage between the victim and the offender, and to the community.  Restorative justice programs, however, involve multiple approaches, including victim–offender mediation, family group conferences, and peacemaking circles (Latimer et al. 2005; Zehr 2002). While they differ in their processes, all these approaches are similar in that they are characterized by the offender taking responsibility for his or her actions; a focus on repairing harm done by requiring direct communication among victim, offender, and associated third parties; and often a requirement for some form of compensation to victims or reparations via community service (Wong et al. 2016). Ultimately, the goals of restorative justice programs are to repair the harm caused by the offense, decrease the offender’s risk of committing future offenses, improve victims’ willingness to forgive their offenders, and increase both victims’ and offenders’ satisfaction with, and perceived fairness of, the justice system (Wilson et al. 2017; Wong et al. 2016).

Target Population
Juvenile restorative justice programs target a variety of young offenders, including low-risk youths, youths who were diverted from formal system processing, and youths who have committed their first offenses. Restorative justice programs can take place within or outside of the juvenile justice system (such as school). Typically, restorative justice programs include the person who committed the offense and a clearly defined victim (i.e., the individual who was harmed by the offense). However, it is important to note that the community can also be considered the “individual harmed” by the offense.

Practice Theory
Restorative justice is predominately based on two well-known theories: reintegrative shaming and procedural justice (Wilson et al. 2017; Wong et al. 2016). Reintegrative shaming involves publicly acknowledging the offender’s wrongdoing as well as the offender accepting responsibility for his or her actions, followed by accepting the offender back into the community. Braithwaite (1989) stressed the importance of ensuring that shaming is reintegrative rather than stigmatizing, arguing that reintegrative shaming increases the likelihood that an individual will desist from future crime.

Procedural justice, on the other hand, stresses the importance of individuals viewing the criminal justice system as legitimate, believing that those who view the system as fair and legitimate are more likely to obey the law (Tyler 1990).

Practice Components
While there are a variety of restorative justice program types, a common feature of all programs is some form of meeting that includes the youth who committed the offense, the victim, and a trained facilitator. The most widely used restorative justice approach in the United States and abroad is victim-offender conferencing, a process in which the willing offender and victim come together with a trained mediator, who ensures the environment is safe and provides structure to the dialogue. During victim-offender conferencing, the offender is held accountable for his/her actions, and the victim is provided with the opportunity to have a voice in the process, something not typically provided in the traditional justice system.

Other commonly used restorative justice approaches in the United States are group conferencing (or family group conferencing) and circle sentencing programs (also known as peacemaking circles). Group conferencing includes the victim, offender, family members or supportive individuals for the offender and for the victim, a facilitator, and, in some cases, community members—who all come together to discuss the offense, the harm it caused, and a way to repair the harm. Similarly, circle sentencing programs emphasize the importance of inclusion of supportive individuals for the victim and offender, such as family and friends, but typically include more community members than in family group conferences. Most important is that all participants must sit in a circle throughout the discussion.

Other restorative justice programs that do not fall under these three commonly used models include arbitration or mediation programs, restitution programs, teen courts, impact panels, reparative boards, cautioning programs, and diversion programs that use restorative justice principles. Restorative justice programs and practices can take many forms; however, programs can still be considered restorative justice programs if the fundamental elements are present. For example, police and juvenile justice court personnel can use restorative justice practices as a diversion strategy or as an alternative to sentencing. In doing so, they keep youths out of the system, but still hold them accountable for the harm they caused and give the victims a voice in the process (Wilson et al. 2017). There are also school-based programs that use elements of restorative justice to address problem behaviors of students in public schools.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Overall, the results from two meta-analyses indicated that restorative justice programs had a statistically significant impact on delinquency. Wilson and colleagues (2017) examined the results of 90 comparisons and found a statistically significant overall mean effect size of 0.23, suggesting that youths who participated in restorative justice programs had lower rates of delinquency, compared with youths who went through traditional justice processing. Similarly, Wong and colleagues (2016) examined the results of 21 comparisons and found a statistically significant overall log odds ratio of 0.248, also suggesting that restorative diversion programs reduced recidivism for youth participants.
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Attitudes & Beliefs - Victims’ perceptions of fairness
Aggregating the results from four comparisons, Wilson and colleagues (2017) found a statistically significant impact of restorative justice programs on victims’ perceptions of fairness of the justice system. Specifically, the overall mean effect size was 0.64, showing that victims involved in restorative justice programs had greater perceptions of fairness, compared with victims of youth who were processed by the traditional juvenile justice system.
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Justice Systems or Processes - Compliance with restitution/fines/payments
Examining the results from six comparisons, Wilson and colleagues (2017) found a statistically significant impact of restorative justice programs on offenders’ compliance with restitution. The overall mean effect size was 0.54, suggesting that juvenile offenders in restorative justice programs were more likely to complete restitution than offenders in traditional justice processing. It should be noted that the compliance with restitution measured completion of these activities for youths in the restorative justice programs; however, the comparison groups did not have the same mechanisms in place to monitor completion.
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Justice Systems or Processes - Offenders’ reparations
Aggregating the results of three comparisons, Wilson and colleagues (2017) found a statistically significant impact of restorative justice programs on offenders’ reparation for the harm caused by the offense. Specifically, the overall mean effect size was 0.99, suggesting that juvenile offenders were more likely to repair the harm they caused than offenders processed through the traditional justice system. It should be noted that the reparation of harm measured completion of these activities for youths in the restorative justice programs; however, the comparison groups did not have the same mechanisms in place to monitor completion.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11976 - 2016840
Meta-Analysis 21990 - 20132118258

Meta-Analysis 1
Wilson and colleagues (2017) evaluated the effectiveness of restorative justice programs for youth across relevant outcomes. To find identify studies, specific keywords related to restorative justice were used to search bibliographic databases. The search strategy was executed from January 5 through January 22, 2016. A total of 41 electronic databases and 50 state websites were searched. Additionally, numerous organization websites were searched for less formally published works.

To be eligible for inclusion, studies had to have tested the effectiveness of a restorative justice program, or a juvenile justice program that included at least one restorative justice component. Studies were also eligible if the samples consisted of juveniles involved in the juvenile justice system at any level or juveniles engaged in problem behaviors without contact with the justice system. Juveniles were defined as aged 18 or younger. Eligible studies were limited to experimental or quasi-experimental designs that compared youths who received restorative justice services with either a comparison group that received traditional formal processing or a comparison group that received an alternative program. Studies had to have reported data related to at least one of the following outcomes: criminal behavior, participant satisfaction, perception of fairness, restitution compliance, reparation of harm, and/or juvenile justice system costs. Both published and unpublished reports were included in the search, as were studies conducted in other countries. However, only studies that were in English were considered.

A total of 31,019 titles were identified, and 1,312 references were subsequently screened against the eligibility criteria, producing 99 eligible references. Following full-text screening of identified references, 60 unique research studies were considered eligible for review. Most of these studies were conducted in the United States (N=46), followed by Australia (N=8), United Kingdom (N=3), European Union (N=2), and Canada (N=1). Of the 60 studies, 52 reported results from a single evaluation. The other 8 studies included multiple independent evaluations resulting in a total of 84 unique “substudies.” Of these, 67 used quasi-experimental designs, whereas 17 used random assignment. In addition, 4 studies offered multiple treatment conditions, compared with a single comparison condition. To maximize the number of available contrasts within each restorative justice program type, the authors kept these as separate comparison contrasts. The final number of comparisons was 91.

In terms of study characteristics, most studies included treatment and comparison conditions that each had at least 100 participants. Most studies had a mix of males and females, with only three restricted solely to males and one restricted solely to females. Most of the youths in these studies had some form of contact with the juvenile justice system, either as non-adjudicated (e.g., diverted from formal processing) or as adjudicated (e.g., formally processed). Six studies were based on samples obtained from a non-juvenile justice setting (i.e., school-based). Finally, one study (Do 2006) examined a victim-awareness class in an institutional setting. It should be noted that the racial and ethnic makeup of the samples was missing from too many studies to provide a reasonable description of this characteristic across the included studies.

The majority of studies (56 percent) examined a specific restorative justice program, with the victim-offender conferencing being the most commonly used restorative justice program. Other programs not explicitly defined as restorative justice programs, but which included restorative justice elements/principles, were restitution, teen courts, cautioning/diversion programs, and programs that included a combination of restorative justice programs or practices.

A standardized mean difference (Hedges’ g) was calculated for all outcomes in the meta-analysis. Given that most of the outcomes were scaled variables, dichotomous outcomes (e.g., measures of delinquency) were converted to the Hedges’ g using the Cox method. To analyze the effect sizes, inverse variance weights were used, as well as random effects models that assume variance in treatment effects across the included studies.

Meta-Analysis 2
Wong and colleagues (2016) evaluated the effectiveness of restorative justice programs for diverted youth on recidivism using meta-analytic techniques. To identify studies, the researchers searched 20 bibliographic databases from January 1990 to April 21, 2015. In addition, they used the Ancestry method by reviewing the bibliographies of narrative literature reviews or existing meta-analyses on diversion strategies or other related studies on diversion programs.

To be eligible for inclusion, evaluations of restorative justice programs had to have reported on at least one individual-level outcome of crime/delinquency for at-risk youth. Furthermore, studies had to have included a treatment sample size of at least 20 at-risk youths aged 12 to 18 years. Regarding research design requirements, eligible studies included those that used random assignment to treatment/comparison conditions or quasi-experimental designs, which used a matched control to ensure the control group was appropriate for comparison purposes. Evaluations were limited to those that took place in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, or a Western European country, and those that were published in English or French between January 1990 and April 2015. To be eligible for inclusion, the program also had to be delivered in a non-closed community setting. Thus, programs that were delivered in schools during the school day, in custody facilities, or in hospitals were not eligible for inclusion.

After screening identified studies using the exclusion/inclusion criteria, 21 studies contributing 21 comparisons were considered eligible for inclusion. These comprised studies conducted between 1990 and 2013, with a total of 5,209 treatment group participants and 13,049 comparison group participants. Of these studies, 13 were technical reports, 4 were theses or dissertations, 3 were peer-reviewed journals, and 1 study was published in a book chapter. Of the 21 studies, 15 took place in the United States, while the remaining 6 took place in Australia, New Zealand, or Europe. Regarding research design, 3 studies used random assignment, while 18 studies used quasi-experimental designs. Nearly all studies provided official reports of delinquent/criminal behavior (e.g., police/court contact or referral, arrest); however, 1 study used participant self-report. In terms of gender, 15 of the 21 studies used samples composed predominately of males, 2 had an even mix of males and females, and 4 did not include information on the gender breakdown of participants. Treatment group sample sizes varied substantially among studies, with a range from 25 to 917 participants. Sample size was dichotomized for the purposes of analysis, with 8 studies (38%) using a total sample of less than 100 students and 13 (62%) using a sample of 100 participants or more. Finally, more than half of the samples were composed of mostly white youths (56%, n = 9), while 44% (n = 7) of the samples contained primarily minority youth or were fairly evenly distributed with respect to race/ethnicity (five studies did not include data on race/ethnicity).

Given the level of diversity in programs included in the meta-analysis, a random-effects model was used to account for the heterogeneity across studies. Given that the majority of the studies in the current analysis present 2 × 2 outcomes in terms of youths who recidivated or did not recidivate, effect sizes were calculated as log odds ratios.
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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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Given the diversity of restorative justice programs included in their meta-analysis, Wilson and colleagues (2017) conducted subgroup analyses to determine the effectiveness of specific restorative justice programs on delinquency. The analyses indicated that effectiveness differed across program type, with cautioning and diversion programs that have restorative justice elements demonstrating the largest overall effect on delinquency. Similarly, other types of restorative justice programs, including victim-offender conferencing, family group conferencing, arbitration or mediation programs, circle sentencing programs, restitution programs, teen courts, impact panels, and reparative boards, also showed statistically significant effects on delinquency, meaning that youths who participated in the programs had lower recidivism rates than youth who did not participate. However, the methodological designs of the studies looking at other types of restorative justice programs were weaker then studies looking at cautioning and diversion programs. Therefore, more confidence can be placed in cautioning and diversion programs that have a restorative justice element. Wilson and colleagues (2017) also noted that such programs are most effective for low-risk, first-time juvenile offenders.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Wilson, David B., Ajima Olaghere, and Catherine S. Kimbrell. 2017. Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Principles in Juvenile Justice: A Meta-Analysis. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/grants/250872.pdf

Meta-Analysis 2
Wong, Jennifer S., Jessica Bouchard, Jason Gravel, Martin Bouchard, and Carlo Morselli. 2016. “Can At-Risk Youth be Diverted from Crime? A Meta-Analysis of Restorative Diversion Programs.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 43(10):1310–29.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Braithwaite, John. 1989. Crime, Shame and Reintegration. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Tyler, Tom R. 1990. Why People Obey the Law. New York, N.Y.: Russell Sage Foundation.

Zehr, Howard. 2002. The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books.
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Related Programs

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated programs that are related to this practice:

Indianapolis (Ind.) Family Group Conferencing Experiment Promising - One study
A restorative justice diversion program for young, first-time juvenile offenders. The goal was to break the cycle of offending before it reached the stage of repeat offending. The program is rated Promising. Participants were less likely to recidivate as fast and had, on average, fewer rearrests than juveniles in the control group.

Canberra Reintegrative Shaming Experiments Promising - One study
A restorative justice program that incorporates the Wagga Wagga conference model as a diversion from conventional court processing. The program is rated Promising. The evaluation found a significant decrease in the reoffending rates of violent offenders some impact on offenders’ attitudes about the legitimacy of the law and reoffending. The evaluation found a limited impact of diversionary conferencing on recidivism outcomes.

Minneapolis Center for Victim-Offender Mediation Promising - One study
A restorative justice program that provides juvenile offenders and their victims the opportunity to meet face-to-face in the presence of a mediator to discuss the offense and establish a plan for the future. The program is rated Promising. Offenders in the program were more likely to complete their restitution obligation. Also, there was a significant impact on victim satisfaction with the juvenile justice system, but not so for offenders.

Juvenile Restorative Justice Program (Midwest County) Promising - One study
This program provides an alternative to juvenile court processing for youths with justice system contact who may or may not have a criminal record. The program is rated Promising. Although there was no statistically significant difference between the treatment and comparison groups on rates of official police contact, the average number of days to re-arrest was statistically significantly lower for the treatment group (441.7 days) than for the comparison group (254.1 days).
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 0 - 18

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Other, White

Targeted Population: First Time Offenders, Victims of Crime, Young Offenders

Settings: Courts, Other Community Setting, School

Practice Type: Alternatives to Detention, Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, Diversion, Restorative Justice, Teen/Youth Court, Victim Programs

Unit of Analysis: Persons

Researcher:
Jennifer S. Wong
Associate Professor
School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Phone: 778.782.8148
Email