Restorative Justice : an Alternative Community Based Program for Juvenile Offenders

Over the years many laws and policies have been created and altered. As a result many activities have become illegal. With so many laws in place now, juvenile crime is also on the rise. More and more juveniles are being sent to prison than ever before. The goal of the juvenile justice system was to rehabilitate but now it is more focused on punishment. However, many rehabilitation programs are still in place to help delinquent juveniles get back on the path to becoming successful productive members of society. One program that comes to mind is the restorative justice program.

Restorative justice is an alternative community based program for juvenile offenders. Instead of sending juvenile offenders to jail or punishing them, they are taught to recognize that their actions were wrong. Then the offender works on paying back the victim to make up for the crime they have committed. Usually restorative justice works by setting up a face-to-face meeting with both the offender and the victim. In the meeting a dialogue takes place, the dialogue is usually guided from an outside mediator such and a counselor. The victim, expresses his or her concern about the crime, and then identifies what is needed to make up for the crime.

Then the offender apologizes for what he or she has done and has to demonstrate that they know what they have is done wrong. This is hard to do, because anyone can just say they are sorry and not mean it. However, dialogue between the victims the offender and the counselor continues until all parties are satisfied. Basically everyone keeps talking until they are happy. After it is all said and done usually the offender has agreed to pay back the victim in some way shape or form. This is usually done by the offender agreeing to fix the damage(s), helping out with other chores or task even writing out an apology letter.

The restorative justice programs are used all across the nation in many different areas of the community. The program is modeled after similar programs that begun in the 1970s and 1980s in New Zealand and Australia (Lawson 2004). It is used in schools, juvenile courts, and youth centers. However, for this discussion I will use the facts from Catherine Lawson’s restorative justice study in Missouri. In Lawson’s writings she references Derek R. Brookes, who came up with the conclusion that restorative justice attempts to produce these three outcomes: reconciliation, reparation, and transformation. Reconciliation is stage where all the apologies happen. Reparation is the stage at which the offender takes responsibility for his or actions, by providing fair restitution to the victim and lastly transformation is the stage where the offender is re-guided back into society as a productive member and is out of the cycle of crime.

After examining the three outcomes of restorative justice (reconciliation, reparation, and transformation) it is obvious that the purpose of the program is to rehabilitate young juvenile offenders and help keep them from living a life full of crime. This program targets young offenders in the early stages of crime. It is usually good for young kids who are caught vandalizing or destroying property, kids who are caught shop lifting, basically for minor non-violent crimes. By participating in this program the kids do not receive a juvenile mark on their record and do not get that social stigma of being a juvenile delinquent attached to them. As mentioned above though, this program is used in schools also. Many times students act out in school, they could be bullying another kid or be disrespectful and rude to the teacher. Instead of suspending the student or giving them a more formal punitive punishment, they will instead use this model restorative justice to help actually teach the student that their behavior is wrong. The program is very versatile.

It is hard to say whether or not this program has been evaluated. The program really aims for long-term results instead of short term. It is hard to obtain quantitate measures on such a program. However, Lawson does mention a study that began in 1997 at Indiana University that measured overall satisfaction of offenders and victims who used a restorative justice approach. The findings were that “90% of the victims were satisfied with the way their case was handled, as compared to 68% whose cases were handled by conventional means” (Lawson p186 2004). “80% of offenders completed their restitution agreements compared to 58% for juveniles assigned restitution by other means, and the re arrest rates for those who completed restorative justice conferences were 25-45% lower than that of their counterparts” (Lawson p186 2004).

This to me means that the program is working. Since this program is aimed at long-term solutions I would encourage that communities that use restorative justice track the offenders. They should keep a running database with offender’s names and check back with law enforcement every few years to see how the offender is doing. I would track each person for at least twenty years. I would continuously check to see if the juvenile is still committing crimes, the types of crimes they are committing and how much time passes between each crime.

Based on my research there is not much improvement that can be made to this program. As I stated before the program is very versatile meaning it can be used in many different situations and areas of the communities. Schools are already using it. And it seems to be working. However, one thing that could be done is adding punishment for those who re-offend. I think that if you tell the child that even though this program is allowing your record to stay clean we will stay in touch with law enforcement for x amount of years and if your name pops up for a similar crime you will be punished according next time and you wont be given a second chance. This scare tactic could possibly deter the juvenile from committing crime in the future.

Juvenile restorative justice is a great program to help keep juveniles on track to becoming productive members of society. It aims at teaching offenders that their actions are wrong and will have consequences. However, since the consequences are not punishments per say it helps the child learn from their mistakes and re pay the victim. It can kind of be seen as a win-win situation for both parties because both parties end up benefitting from the program.    

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