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Program Profile: Indianapolis (Ind.) Family Group Conferencing Experiment

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 13, 2012

Program Summary

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.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
The Indianapolis (Indiana) Family Group Conferencing Experiment, also known as the Indianapolis Restorative Justice Conference Project, was 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 criteria used to determine eligibility for participation in the project required that a youth:

  • Be no older than 14
  • Be a first-time offender (that is, no prior adjudications)
  • Have committed a nonserious, nonviolent offense
  • Have no other pending charges
  • Admit responsibility for the offense

The eligible charges included assault, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, shoplifting, and theft.

Program Theory
Family group conferencing is based on principles of restorative justice and draws on several criminological theories, including Braithwaite’s theory of reintegrative shaming (1989). Restorative justice practices differ from traditional court process in many ways. While traditional courts take an adversarial approach, key elements of restorative justice practices include community empowerment and participation as well as a meaningful focus on the victim (or victims) of the crime. Traditional courts are often criticized for ignoring the victim while determining a punishment for the offender that does not necessarily have anything to do with the crime.

Program Components
Once the case was found to be eligible for a restorative justice family group conference, it was assigned to a conference coordinator who proceeded to contact the offender, his or her parent (or parents), and the victim (or victims) to assess the willingness of the parties to participate in a conference. A conference was then scheduled to bring every party to the incident together to discuss it.

The conference generally included not only the offender and victim but also a group of supporters. This typically involved parents/guardians, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, friends, and neighbors. But it may have also included teachers, athletic coaches, and other important figures in the youth’s life. During the conference, the coordinator guided the juvenile offender through a series of questions to decipher the events that led to the incident. Questions such as how the youth was involved, what the youth was thinking about at the time, and whom the youth thinks the offending behavior affected were intended to help the youth accept responsibility for the behavior. The questions also were designed to help the youth understand how the behavior has affected the victim, the families, and the community.

After everyone has had an opportunity to speak, the juvenile was asked if there is anything he or she would like to say to the victim. It was usually at this point that the juvenile would apologize to the victim and to the group. The group then began the process of agreeing to a plan that would allow the offender to repair the harm that was caused by the crime. This agreement may have included restitution, community service, or other elements to address the specifics of this case. The final agreement that outlines the group’s recommendations was prepared and signed by all the participants.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Time to Recidivism

McGarrell and Hipple (2007) found that just less than half of the Indianapolis (IN) Family Group Conferencing (FGC) Experiment study sample (49 percent) survived until the end of the 2-year follow-up period. Although a greater proportion of the FGC treatment group (51.8 percent) than the control sample (46.1 percent) survived, the difference was not significant.

A second analysis using the life tables found a significant difference in the cumulative proportion of each sample surviving. While both samples failed at the same rate during the first 12 weeks, the control sample henceforth failed at a faster rate, especially in weeks 14–32. The effect of the FGC treatment program was most significant in weeks 13–26. During this period, 8 percent of the FGC treatment group was rearrested, compared with 15 percent of the control group—a difference that was significant.

Additional analysis found that assignment to the experimental group decreased the hazard rate of failure by 17.4 percent. When race, age, and offense type were controlled for, however, the relationship between group assignment and risk of failure was no longer significant.

FGC treatment participants were significantly more likely than control group participants to complete their program. Overall, a lower risk of failure for all participants was associated with being arrested by a municipal police officer (as opposed to a school officer), with completing the diversion program, and with being younger.

Number of Rearrests
The analysis of incidence rates indicated that juveniles in the FGC treatment group had, on average, fewer rearrests than juveniles in the control group. The treatment group had an average of 1.29 rearrests during the follow-up period, compared with the average of 1.67 rearrests for the control group. Additional analysis showed that being in the FGC treatment group significantly decreased the average number of rearrests by a factor of 0.77. Put another way, juveniles in the FGC treatment group have an incidence rearrest rate 23 percent lower than juveniles in the control group.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
McGarrell and Hipple’s 2007 evaluation of the Indianapolis (IN) Family Group Conferencing Experiment used an experimental design that allowed for comparisons among victims, offending youths, and parents involved in conferences and those involved in other court-ordered diversion programs. Court intake officers screened youths for eligibility. Eligible youths were selected for the program through a random assignment procedure.

This 2007 study extends the follow-up period of an earlier study by McGarrell and colleagues (2000). Beginning Sept. 1, 1997, 782 juvenile offenders participated in the experiment. Of these, 400 youths were assigned to the Family Group Conferencing (FGC) treatment group and 382 youths were assigned to the control group. Three hundred twenty-two youths completed the FGC treatment program, and 233 control youths finished the assigned diversion program (which included teen court, a shoplifting program, community service, and victim–offender mediation). All youths were included in the analysis.

The groups were comparable on gender, initial arrest type, and arresting agency. However, the proportion of nonwhite sample members was higher in the control group (63.6 percent) than in the FGC treatment group (57 percent)—a difference that approached significance. The average age of offenders in the FGC treatment group was 12.49, compared with 12.71 for the control group. The FGC treatment group also had a wider age range, with offenders younger than in the control group.

The effect of the FGC program on time until failure was evaluated primarily through survival analysis, which examines the relationship among offender characteristics, intervention type, offense-related variables, and failure (or time until first arrest). Life tables and Cox regression were used to conduct survival analyses. The difference in hazard rates (which is the risk of failure at a specific point in time) at various points in the follow-up was also examined. Finally, a count regression model of incidence was conducted to assess the incidence of reoffending. Each youth was followed for a 2-year period, beginning at the youth’s qualifying arrest date.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Discussion about the implementation of the restorative justice conferences in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the involvement of several key players (including representatives from the juvenile court, the prosecutor’s office, the Indianapolis Police Department, the Marion County (IN) Sherriff’s Department, the mayor’s office, youth service providers, the schools, and neighborhood groups) is provided in the 2000 report by McGarrell and colleagues.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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

Study 1
McGarrell, Edmund F., and Natalie Kroovand Hipple. 2007. “Family Group Conferencing and Reoffending Among First-Time Juvenile Offenders: The Indianapolis Experiment.” Justice Quarterly 24(2):221–46.
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Additional References

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

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

Jeong, Seokjin, Edmund F. McGarrell, and Natalie Kroovand Hipple. 2012. “Long-Term Impact of Family Group Conferences on Re-Offending: The Indianapolis Restorative Justice Experiment.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 8:369–85. (This study was reviewed but did not meet Crime Solutions' criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

McGarrell, Edmund F. 2001. “Restorative Justice Conferences as an Early Response to Young Offenders.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

McGarrell, Edmund F., Kathleen Olivares, Kay Crawford, and Natalie Kroovand Hipple. 2000. Returning Justice to the Community: The Indianapolis Juvenile Restorative Justice Experiment. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hudson Institute, Crime Control Policy Center.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Formal System Processing for Juveniles
The practice of using traditional juvenile justice system processing in lieu of alternative sanctions to deal with juvenile criminal cases. The practice is rated No Effects for reducing recidivism compared to the youth that were diverted from the system.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Restorative Justice Programs for Juveniles
This practice emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. Restorative justice programs aim to repair the harm to the victim, decrease an offender’s recidivism rate, and improve participants’ perceptions of fairness and satisfaction with the process. The practice is rated Promising for reducing juveniles’ recidivism rates, increasing victims’ perceptions of fairness, and increasing juveniles’ restitution and reparation completion rates.

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
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Program Snapshot

Age: 11 - 14

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: White, Other

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Diversion, Restorative Justice, Victim Programs

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

Current Program Status: Not Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide