The Juvenile Restorative Justice Program (Midwest County) provides youths with an alternative to juvenile court processing. The goal is to bring together those most affected by a criminal incident (including the juveniles who have offended and those who have been victimized) in a non-adversarial process, which is designed to promote accountability and repair harms resulting from the crime.
Juveniles who come into contact with the juvenile justice system in a mostly rural, midwestern county can be referred to the restorative justice (RJ) program by a variety of community agencies, including victim advocacy groups, schools, law enforcement, the county attorney, and local courts. The program differs from other RJ programs that typically are available to youths with a broader range of offense types, including prior records. Further, it attempts to address some violent crimes (e.g., minor assault) and “victimless” crimes (e.g., traffic violations or status offenses), and property-related offenses (e.g., personal theft, shoplifting, and vandalism).
After initial referral, RJ staff members screen the juveniles in person to assess their appropriateness for the program. Juveniles do not have to admit to the offense in order to be referred; however, to be eligible to continue in the program, they must admit to the offense and be “willing to make it right” by engaging in a face-to-face dialogue with the victim, which lasts from 45 minutes to an hour. The victims have the choice to participate or not, and if they participate, may choose to what degree they will do so (e.g., direct or indirect mediation); thus, the victim’s preferences guide the form of the intervention.
Once the youths are determined to be eligible for the program, they are invited to participate in a face-to-face restorative process. This program operates as a “hybrid model” or “variety approach” (Bazemore and Umbreit 2001) in that staff attempt to match cases with the most appropriate of several restorative interventions. Specifically, if the victim is willing to participate in a face-to-face dialogue, then the RJ facilitator proceeds with preparing the juvenile who has offended for meeting with the victim. However, if the juvenile is deemed inappropriate for RJ programming or if the victim is unwilling to participate in RJ and insists upon formal processing, the case is typically referred back to the original agency. Alternatively, if the victim is unwilling to meet the juvenile who has offended in a face-to-face setting, then the RJ facilitator may facilitate an indirect mediation, or have the juvenile participate in a victim-impact panel or a community panel, where members of the community serve as “surrogate victims.”
Since the program began in 2000, it has been staffed by one full-time member and several volunteers.
The program is founded on a restorative justice framework, which is based on empowering victims as they seek answers and closure, as well as ensuring that those who commit offenses take responsibility for their actions. RJ advocates often distinguish restorative programs from traditional programs as the difference between restoration (repairing the harms associated with the crime) and retribution (“an eye for an eye” philosophy). Additionally, the framework distinguishes between harm done to victims and communities, compared with offenses against the state (Bergseth and Bouffard 2007).
Any Official Police Contact
Bergseth and Bouffard (2007) found no statistically significant differences between the treatment and comparison groups on the likelihood of any official contact with police within 4 years.
Days to first new official contact
The average number of days to re-arrest was lower for the treatment group (441.7 days) than for the comparison group (254.1 days). This difference was statistically significant.
Bergseth and Bouffard (2007) conducted a quasi-experimental study to evaluate the impact of the Juvenile Restorative Justice Program (Midwest County) on recidivism. The full study population was drawn from youths involved with the courts, from 2000 to 2003, in a mostly rural, midwestern county that also includes a small city. The treatment group comprised 164 youths referred to Restorative Justice (RJ) programming, and a comparison sample was developed by selecting youths who were referred to traditional court processing during the same period for offenses that were similar to those committed by treatment group members. The comparison sample consisted of 166 youths who were selected based on the type of offense (e.g., property, persons, public order).
The treatment group (n = 164) was 77.4 percent male, with an average age of 13.9 years. Their racial/ethnic breakdown was 73.2 percent white, 14.6 percent Hispanic/Latino, 6.1 percent American Indian, and 6.1 percent other racial/ethnic groups. A total of 23.8 percent of treatment youths were from rural hometowns, and 70.6 percent were from urban hometowns. The comparison group (n = 166) was 70.5 percent male, with an average age of 15.5 years. Their racial/ethnic breakdown was 70.9 percent white, 20 percent Hispanic/Latino, 6.1 percent American Indian, and 2.4 percent other racial/ethnic groups. A total of 34.9 percent of the comparison youths were from rural hometowns, and 65.1 percent were from urban hometowns. There was a statistically significant difference between groups on five variables: 1) The RJ youths were younger; 2) they were more likely to come from the small city; 3) they were significantly less likely to have had prior official police contact; 4) on average, they incurred fewer prior official contacts; and 5) their most serious current offense was likely to have been property-related (compared with “other” or “persons” related offenses). There were no statistically significant differences between groups on race/ethnicity, gender, or follow-up length.
The treatment group received the RJ programming. All youths referred to RJ programming received at least one initial in-person contact with an RJ facilitator. A total of 7 percent of these cases concluded after the initial meeting because the juveniles were deemed inappropriate for participation; an additional 18 percent of the RJ-referred cases concluded because the victims were unwilling to participate in the program. A total of 75 percent of those referred to RJ programming completed the program: 49 percent participated in direct juvenile–victim mediation (i.e., dialogue/conferences), 7 percent participated in a victim or community-impact panel, and 19 percent of the cases resulted in agreements through indirect discussions (facilitated by the RJ staff member).
The comparison group was processed through traditional juvenile court. Most of the comparison group youths referred to traditional court processing received a term of probation, either supervised (79 percent) or unsupervised (16 percent), while some (5 percent) received dispositions other than probation.
Multivariate analyses were conducted to examine differences in recidivism when demographic and offense history factors were controlled. An intent-to-treat design was used to examine group differences in 1) prevalence of a new, officially recorded police contact over a 4-year follow-up period (using logistic regression analyses); and 2) time (days) to first new official police contact (using Cox regression models). Subgroup analyses were not conducted.
The program operates independently of the local juvenile court, although it is funded via state-administered federal funds that are matched by a contribution from a local county collaborative of social service agencies (Bergseth and Bouffard 2007).
In addition to a 4-year criminal justice degree, the full-time staff member must have 4 years of mediation and facilitation experience prior to program initiation, and have received an average of 27 hours of ongoing training per year since 2000. Program volunteers participate in a 24-hour training session and an additional 15- to 20-hour apprenticeship, as well as continuing education activities (Bergseth and Bouffard 2007).
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1
Bergseth, Kathleen J., and Jeffrey A. Bouffard. 2007. "The Long-Term Impact of Restorative Justice Programming for Juvenile Offenders." Journal of Criminal Justice
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Bazemore, G., and Umbreit, M. 2001. A Comparison of Four Restorative Conferencing Models (Juvenile Justice Bulletin)
. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.