Restorative Community Justice views crime as harm to individuals and communities. Since it is viewed not only a violation of state laws, the administration of justice should include the interests of the victim and the community. Victims are those who are harmed directly and indirectly. The governing justice philosophies of retribution and rehabilitation give the offender the opportunity to remain relatively passive and not accept responsibility for the harm they have caused. Many in the justice system support restorative community justice because it encourages accountability, includes all parties affected by the crime, and offers opportunities for repair on harm, while encouraging competency development of the offender.The main goals include:
Accountability. Opportunities for offenders to be accountable to those they have harmed and an expectation to repair the harm they have caused to the extent possible.
Community Safety. Safety is best developed by building relationships and giving the community the opportunity to take responsibility for the well-being of its members.
Competency Development. It is important to increase the pro-social skills of the offender. Addressing the factors that lead to criminal behavior and building on individual strengths increases their competency.
Restorative Justice Throughout the System
Restorative justice provides opportunities at various points in the justice system. Law enforcement may divert cases as a part of a formal or informal adjustment. Prosecutors may divert cases to a restorative justice practice in lieu of formal charges or negotiate with defense attorneys for guilty plea agreements. Judges can order an offender who has acknowledged responsibility for an offense to be assessed for the restorative justice practice. Probation officers may develop conditions of probation, along with citizens and victims. A detention or corrections center may have offenders participate in specially designed restorative justice practices which can aid in an offenders’ successful re-entry into the community. In addition, restorative measures are often used to handle violations of probation or disciplinary actions within a facility. Finally, offenders may voluntarily agree to participate in a restorative practice separate from any court obligations.
(Taken from “ICJIA Implementing Balanced and Restorative Justice: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers”)
Crime can be traumatic to victims. Depending on the type of crime, victimization can range from an inconvenience to serious trauma. Each victim may respond to the crime differently. Victims may need empowerment, reassurance, support, resources and an understanding of what has occurred. They need to be treated with compassion and sensitivity in an environment that is attentive to their individual feelings and needs. Sometimes these needs are not met by the traditional system. Studies have shown that restorative practices offer high victim satisfaction and can reduce fear and anxiety.
The Crime Victims Act gives victims the opportunity to be active participants in the justice practice and to be viewed as clients of the system. Crime victims deserve practices that treat them with dignity and respect; they need their voices to be heard. Restorative practices may also respond to victim’s needs by providing them with opportunities for both direct and indirect dialogue with offenders and the community. Participation is always voluntary. Practices include:
- Victim Impact Panels/Classes
- Community/Restorative Group Conferencing
- Restorative Circles
- Re-entry circles
Restorative Justice and Law Enforcement
Restorative Community Justice increases the effectiveness of police, prosecution, defense attorneys, and the courts, by involving all parties interested in and affected by crime. Community policing expands the role of the law enforcement officer to one who not only arrests, but serves as a community resource and peacemaker. Restorative community justice can be a guide for crime prevention and intervention. Officers can use restorative justice measures on the streets to:
- Gain a better understanding of community problems.
- Promote more positive image of law enforcement and maintain a community presence.
- Engage citizens is solving problems, resolving conflict and addressing crime.
A major principle of restorative community justice is that the community takes responsibility for its members. One way for that to occur is for community members to participate in restorative practices that handle conflict and crime. This can be done by law enforcement by:
- Offering alternatives to arrest and/or prosecution for low-level offenders who are better served outside a formal system.
- Secure more satisfying resolutions of community problems and crime.
- Reduce community dependence on police by building their capacity to solve conflicts, allowing law enforcement to focus on serious crime.
- Decrease the number of individuals involved in the justice system – leaving law enforcement on the streets instead of spending time in the courts.
Immediate sanctions are basically diversion mechanisms that hold offenders accountable for their actions by sanctioning behavior and providing needed services, but at the same time avoiding formal court appearances. These diversions are most appropriate for first time offenders, minor repeat offenders and in some cases, nonviolent felons. In many cases, keeping the community safe does not require formal court handling. Diversion from the system is a reasonable option for those who pose minimal risk to the community.
In a restorative community justice system, the program must:
- Consider the concerns of the victim
- Strengthen and promote community bonds
- Target and respond to the juvenile’s problem behavior in ways that advance competencies.
Diversion programming that embraces restorative justice principles will encourage offenders to identify the harm they have caused and find a way to repair that harm within their community. They require different levels of intervention according to the needs of the offender and the level of the offense. Diversion participants may participate in drug/alcohol assessment, counseling or treatment, mental health assessment, education opportunities that promote responsible behavior, writing essays and apology letters, paying restitution, victim impact panels, restorative justice processes and community service.
When prosecutors talk about approaches to prosecution, usually the discussion is of the ethical obligations to seek justice, the need to secure restitution for victims, the desire to be fair, the duty to protect the community and the desire to rehabilitate the offender. Prosecutors have now added to the discussion restorative community justice principles of community safety, offender accountability and competency development.
As the restorative approach has gained momentum, prosecutors have focused on “restorative” programs such as victim-offender mediation, conferencing, circles and other innovative community-oriented programs. The attention paid to such programs has the risk of overshadowing the core principles that guide these programs. Many juvenile justice system professionals believed that if they had a diversion program in place, they were practicing restorative justice. This also led to the mistaken view that restorative justice was for low-level juvenile offenders.
Adopting a restorative justice philosophy in a prosecutor’s office can have a number of advantages. It can:
- Guide decision making by prosecutors and other system participants
- Enhance consistency and fairness is the system
- Be readily measured
- Inform communities about system successes
- Help prosecutors explain how they exercise their considerable discretionary powers”
The American Prosecutors Research Institute has worked directly with Florida Atlantic University and the Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) Project to study, research and develop policy for the infusion of restorative community justice principles in the role of prosecution of criminal behavior.
Probation is committed to a system that promotes public safety and identifies and repairs harm to victims and communities. Probation has the opportunity to take an active role in incorporating the victim’s voice throughout the term of probation for the offender, working closely with the probation staff in developing strategies to assist the offender in making amends, restoring the harm caused by his or her behavior, and taking accountability for ones actions.
It is the goal of the courts to keep people in their communities while offering community supervision. In order for any individual to be reasonably managed in the community, probation must assess the individual’s offense history and other factors that may point to continued criminal behavior. Maintaining an offender in the community may require a range of treatment, supervision, control options, and the support of informal systems such as families, schools, faith communities and the community.
Implementing Restorative Justice Within Probation
Probation can take a proactive role in implementing restorative principles in the pre-sentence investigation report, which is submitted to the court at the time of the offender’s sentencing. During the recommendation phase of the report, the officer, within the context of the restorative philosophy and keeping community safety a priority, assesses the harm caused and what it will take to repair this harm. (The same ideals when developing a case plan while the offender is under supervision. Key elements of these phases are to reach out to both the victim and community requesting their input and involvement into the system.)
In addition, Probation can:
- Facilitate community meetings to educate and receive assistance in dealing with offenders.
- Facilitate Restorative Community Justice Advisory Boards.
- Develop partnerships with law enforcement agencies to provide community-policing efforts.
- Partner with restorative community justice programs to offer community group conferencing, victim offender mediation, or victim offender dialogue.
Probation is constantly seeking ways of implementing new strategies to provide meaningful useful public service for offenders rather then the traditional method.
Substance Abuse Programs ~ Drug Courts
Many states are implementing specialized drug courts and are striving to make courts restorative in nature and operation.
While sanctions and incentives are part of the program, the program emphasizes treatment, and acknowledges youths who attain milestones in sobriety and abstinence. Meaningful community service is often part of the drug court contract–a chance to give back to the community. The judge gives praise to an offender for behavior that reduces reliance on alcohol and other drugs. Graduation is designed as a very special acknowledgment, with the judge recognizing the work done by the offender in open court.
At the heart of juvenile drug court is community. The drug establishes an appropriate system of rewards and sanctions. Effective rewards take thought, time, effort, and participation by the community. Businesses and other organizations can be contacted and informed of the nature of drug court and the need to provide offenders with meaningful rewards. The community response can include sporting and musical events tickets, gift certificates, theater tickets and other valuable and appreciated rewards for youths who use drug court as a serious opportunity to make lifestyle changes. Community volunteers are also welcomed and are used to assist in managing the program.
At its best, when all is said and done, juvenile drug courts help to build community and is a restorative experience for the participating youth.
Most correctional organizations have been strongly offender-focused. Recently, they have come to recognize the need to elevate victim participation, spotlight offender understanding and repairing of harm caused by their criminal acts, and emphasize the development of public, private and community partnerships, which involve diverse citizens.
Certainly there are barriers that must be overcome if the transformation from traditional to restorative community justice is to occur. This means, the current offender focus must be abandoned in favor of a broader definition of a “case” which includes the victim, community and offender. This requires changes in staff roles and responsibilities, and in contracting provisions and provider services, as victims and community members become an integral part of the correctional process. The changes are as follows:
- Victim services expands from a strictly statutory notification process to include victim empathy training and panels, mediation, victim walks, restitution collection, community service projects and other individualized strategies that place the victim as a clear focus. Victims consistently must be able to access offender and system information, and valuable victim information must be integrated in the assessment and case planning process.
- There is a need for active collaborative planning with criminal justice and community partners to strengthen integrative approaches to case planning and management.
- Offenders returning to their home communities from residential facilities do so with the full knowledge, cooperation and vigilance of that community so that supportive relationships can be established. Collaboration with law enforcement regarding restorative processes has increased, and continual education is essential so that public safety is enhanced.
- With the amplified emphasis on community and victim participation, services to offenders have increasingly emphasized reparation of victim and community harm to facilitate a safe and successful return to home and family.
- Restorative processes are also being implemented within facilities to address harm done by youth to other youth, staff and the internal facility community.
- Educational curricula are beginning to integrate restorative community justice values and principles, and community service activities are beginning to focus on restorative benefits rather than retributive impacts.
- Outcome measure and baseline data must be established and maintained to support the program changes that are necessary for full conversion to restorative activities.
- It is understood that management structures, job titles and position descriptions may be changing as the residential culture moves toward being a fully restorative organization.
(Adapted from the Forum on Restorative Community Justice Juvenile Justice Monograph)
Currently many residential and correctional facilities do little to correct “criminal behavior.” Research also indicates that any gains made by offenders in correctional facilities quickly evaporate following release, because they are released back to disorganized communities where it is easy to slip back into old habits that resulted in arrest in the first place. Large percentages of serious offenders continue to commit crimes and re-appear in the system.
Child Welfare (Family and Children Services, Department of Human Services) has often been stereotyped as being an intrusive and family-damaging process. However, human services organizations in many areas are working toward providing restorative services and interventions. Restorative community justice values and principles emphasize the effect “wrong-doing” has not only on the victim but on the community as a whole. Resources to families can be increased and strengthened by community members. Community and family involvement in problem solving increases the community’s capacity and willingness to respond to problems that may have been primarily handled by formal systems.
How is Child Welfare Restorative?
Jim Drendle & Forum on Restorative Community Justice, Justice Monograph
Protection of children, youth, and adolescents from maltreatment. Children are entitled to be free from harm, have their rights upheld, and their welfare promoted. Children are generally best raised in families. Family groups can make safe decisions for their own children
Offender (often parent) accountability to the victim, family, and community. Placing value on the families’ role in decision-making that promotes safety, accountability and family well being. The primary responsibility for the care of children rests with their families, which should be respected, supported, and protected.
Develop competencies in both the children (often the victim) and the parent(s) (often the offender) that encourage responsibility and productivity.
Families, relatives and community are our allies and best resources. Family groups are experts on themselves. They hold information that no one else can access. Family has wisdom and solutions that may help the situation.
Consideration of unique circumstances. Families are unique and these unique qualities must be recognized and addressed in order to create a sustained change. The essence of family empowerment is the belief in self-determination. Those we help have a right and need to make their own decisions and choices.
Equal importance and attention should be placed on each principle in order to obtain the best result in reducing child maltreatment.
Family Group Conferencing in Child Welfare Cases
Many human service departments encourage social work practices based on restorative values and principles and that meet the above goals. One practice that has successfully met all these ideals is the practice of family group conferencing. Like restorative justice family group conferencing and community group conferencing, child welfare family group conferencing (FGC) originated in New Zealand from indigenous Maori values that emphasize the roles of family and community in addressing wrongdoing. Therefore, many of the goals are similar.
FGC differs slightly from restorative justice conferencing; instead of dealing with a specific incident, child welfare conferences address every area of a child’s (victim), parent’s (often the offender), and families’ (community, an individual may include their pastor, friends, etc. as part of their “family”) life. For example, conferences may address issues as serious as the permanent residence of a child and whether they are able to continue a relationship with their parents and parental rights and responsibilities.
Some benefits of FGC are listed below.
Benefits for Children:
- Children are often placed with family, people they know.
- Children are able to remain in their own community (e.g. same school, same church, same friends etc.).
- Permanency plan is often expedited.
- The child is taken out of the middle of the family dispute/conflict.
- Support systems are put into place for the family and kin.
Benefits for Parents:
- Parents are given the opportunity to be involved in the development of their treatment plan, family plan, and visitation plan;
- The Family Group Conference offers healing and conflict resolution;
- Families realize their strengths and limitations;
- Parents are often reunited/reintegrated into their family; and
- A plan to maintain the child/children in the home is developed.
Benefits for Family/ Other Community Supports:
- Family is better informed about the needs of the children (victim) and case situation;
- Informed decisions are made on how to support the children and parent(s);
- Family involvement often results in fewer failed placements or moves; and
- Family gets to participate in development of the treatment, family, and visitation plans.