Restorative Justice – What is it and how is it relevant to
family work at our juvenile facilities?
In January 1998, the Office of
Juvenile Justice adopted Balanced and Restorative Justice as a philosophy and
the framework for delinquency services throughout the state. Restorative justice
is a different way of thinking about crime and justice. It provides a
three-dimensional focus on meeting the needs of victims, offenders and
communities and involving each in the justice process.
Partnering with families to address obligations and to repair relationships,
which have been damaged in a variety of ways, fits well within the philosophy of
Restorative Justice. The primary defining feature of restorative justice is its
emphasis on repairing the harm caused by crime. Harm refers not only to physical
injury or monetary loss, but also includes psychological consequences, damage to
relationships and any other loss suffered as a result of the offense. Crime
occurs within the context of relationships – family, peers, school,
co-workers, communities, etc. – and justice is achieved through the reparation
of each of those relationships. The desired goal is taking responsibility
(includes actively working to repay for the harm done), expressing sadness and
regret, committing not to repeat the harmful behavior and learning healthier
ways to relate.
The three stakeholder groups in a restorative justice system are the victim,
the offender and the community. The process should provide a framework that
promotes the work of recovery and healing for all the stakeholders. The process
belongs to the community and requires that community members be actively
involved in the work of reparation and reconciliation.
Families are the first community an individual belongs to and the work of
recovery and healing must include efforts of reparation and reconciliation at
this level also. By drawing from the resources of the family, the unit itself
will be strengthened. All the family members will have a greater investment in
the well being of the family as a whole and, as a result, the safety of the
larger community will also be enhanced. The family has a responsibility for the
conditions that promote both harm and peace within its boundaries just as all
other communities do.
The values of restorative justice are reflected in its goals of
accountability, competency development and community safety. A strength based
family work approach which places value on diversity and demonstrates respect in
its interactions with all family members is most likely to achieve these same
goals (accountability, competency development and safety) both within the family
unit and the larger community. This requires that we, as juvenile justice
professionals, stretch our traditional definitions of family and community to
reflect the perspectives of the participants in the process. Many of our youth
do not have "families" as traditionally defined, but do have an
identified network of contacts, which fulfill family roles. The professional
focus should be on creative problem solving and relationship building. This
requires an enhanced understanding of the victim experience, conflict resolution
/ mediation skills, and the ability to identify, access and reinforce existing
resources – both internal and external. Currently there are a number of
promising practices being implemented that adhere to the values of restorative
justice and that lend themselves to the arena of family work in cases of
Family group conferencing involves bringing together family members and their
key supporters to discuss harms that have occurred and how they might be
repaired. People are provided with the opportunity to express their feelings
regarding the impact of harmful behaviors, to ask questions and to identify
desired changes. All participants may contribute to the process and the desired
end result is an agreement between participants which outlines both expectations
and commitments. Family group conferencing provides for victim involvement,
enhanced empathy on the part of the offender and strengthened connections to
community support systems.
Parent/child or victim/offender mediation provides opportunities for family
members to meet in a structured setting to discuss the impact of harmful
behaviors. With the assistance of a trained mediator, the effects of harmful
behavior can be safely discussed, questions asked and opportunities provided to
develop mutually acceptable plans for reparation and reconciliation.
Keeping in mind our definition of family as a community, Judge Barry Stuart
provides the defining value in partnering with the families of the youth in the
care of the juvenile justice system:
"When citizens fail to assume responsibility for decisions affecting
the community, community life will be characterized by the absence of a
collective sense of caring, a lack of respect for diverse values and
ultimately a lack of any sense of belonging. On the other hand, conflict, if
resolved through a process that constructively engages the parties involved,
can be a fundamental building ingredient in any relationship."
Whatever approach is utilized, the measure of the intervention is the degree
of restoration or reparation achieved.