Friday, January 29, 2010

How Restorative Justice Works

According to restorative justice pioneer Howard Zehr, when a crime or offense is committed, the offender incurs an obligation to restore the victim -- and by extension, the community, to the state of welfare that existed before the offense.  The idea of restoration seeks to balance three factors: 

  • holding offenders accountable to victims,
  • ensuring community safety and providing positive,
  • productive development for offenders so they can pursue legitimate endeavors after their cases have reached a conclusion.

What Does Research on Restorative Justice Tell Us? 

Based on quantitative and qualitative research carried out in different parts of the United States and other countries such as Canada, New Zealand and England, the American Humane Association writes that restorative justice:

  • Reduces the likelihood that youths will reoffend
  • Reconnects youths to their families and communities
  • Rebuilds youths’ sense of self
  • Restores victims to the state of welfare that existed before the offense
  • Reunites families
  • Restores a sense of safety and welfare in the community
  • Relieves the criminal justice system from unnecessary costs

Additionally, stakeholders such as victims express satisfaction with the process outcomes:

Victim Satisfaction
  • According to a study conducted by Umbriet, Coates and Vos in 2004, victims who participate in conferences with offenders report higher levels of satisfaction than victims who do not.
  • In Evje and Cushman’s 2000 evaluation of restorative justice programs in California, general satisfaction of all participants uniformly scored above 90 percent.
  • Umbreit, Coates and Vos found in 2004 that over 80 percent of participants -- victims and offenders -- were satisfied with the restorative dialogue experience.
Offender Satisfaction
  • Braithwaite found in four 1999 studies that offenders’ satisfaction and perceptions of fairness were higher if the offender had participated in a restorative practice.
  • Umbreit, Coates and Vos discovered in 2004 that agreement was reached in 90 percent of victim-offender dialogues, and between 80 and 90 percent of those agreements were fulfilled.
  • Evje and Cushman reported in 2000 that in six victim-offender dialogue programs evaluated in California, completion rates for restitution and community service were higher than in programs where a face-to-face meeting did not take place.

Current literature varies in its report of recidivism outcomes.  Research has shown that the fewer times a youth comes in contact with the justice system, the greater the chances he or she will not reoffend. The more the system diverts cases to family involvement and community-based solutions, the more caring and effective the justice system becomes. 

  • Four studies on restorative justice programs, Umbreit (1994), Niemeyer and Schichor (1996), Nugent and Paddock (1996), and Wiinamaki (1997), produced on average a 90-percent reduction in recidivism as compared to the control group.
  • In combining the results of multiple studies in 2004, Nugent, Williams and Umbreit focused on reoffending in 15 experimental studies on 19 victim-offender dialogue programs, involving 9,307 juveniles; their results suggested that juvenile offenders who participate in these programs may be 30 percent less likely to recidivate.
  • In Evje and Cushman’s 2000 study, five of six counties had reduced recidivism using a restorative justice model; one county reported a 10-percent reduction in recidivism as compared to a group that did not participate in a dialogue with the victim.

For the original article on which this blog post is based, click HERE

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