Restorative Justice: Theory and Evidence Relating to Youth Offending

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1 Restorative Justice: Theory and Evidence Relating to Youth Offending Presented by Professor Carolyn Hamilton and Elizabeth Yarrow

2 What is Restorative Justice? Restorative Justice (RJ) is a highly contested concept. There is a debate over the definition of RJ between those who view RJ as a process, and those who focus on the values or outcomes it is supposed to promote. Process definition: a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offence collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future. (Marshall, 1999) Outcome definition: any action that is primarily oriented to doing justice by repairing the harm that is caused by a crime. (Gordon and Walgrave, 1999) Combination: restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasises repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through inclusive and cooperative processes. (Van Ness, 2004)

3 Why Restorative Justice for Child Offenders? It is a fundamental tenet of international law that the primary goal of a juvenile justice system should not be that of punishment, but of rehabilitation and reintegration of the child offender Restorative Justice has become an important concept in juvenile justice practice and reform Provides informal, community-based solutions to child offending inline with UNCRC and other international legal instruments. RJ disposals may be used as diversion measures, or alternative sentencing schemes to avoid detention; Avoids exposing vulnerable children to criminal justice systems which can be adversarial, isolating and punitive.

4 Restorative Justice in Practice: Typical Measures Restorative justice is perhaps best understood as a continuum of practices that take the principles of restorative justice and attempt to apply them as fully as possible. (Zehr, 2014). Victim-offender mediation (VOM): (Incorporated into law in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, South Africa, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Lao PDR, Netherlands, Norway, Taiwan, the USA and others). Family group conferencing (Practiced in Australia, Brazil, Canada, England and Wales, Ireland, Lesotho, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, South Africa and the USA, amongst others). Sentencing circles: (Practiced mainly in Canada and the USA. Pilot schemes have also been introduced in Brazil). The purpose of each method is broadly the same: to engage concerned parties in a constructive dialog about the offence, it s impact, context and aftermath, to resolve problem presented by the offence, and provide some closure.

5 Restorative Justice in Practice: the evidence The diverse nature of RJ programmes (applied in different contexts) make it difficult to evaluate their relative benefits in a systematic fashion Evaluations of restorative programs have sought to measure their success at the micro level ( satisfaction and healing ) & at the macro level (systems level goals, e.g. reducing recidivism & diversion): A body of evidence has revealed higher stakeholder satisfaction with RJ compared to conventional criminal justice. Levels of restoration are harder to determine: children are sometimes less likely to say that they have benefited personally from RJ programs: referral orders are a good idea and they re better than court.but.well.it wasn t that helpful for me. (Child participating in RJ in England). Findings in relation to recidivism are very varied and mixed.

6 Limitations of restorative approaches There are some limitations to RJ in its application to child offending, both in theory and in practice. Restorative processes are victim-centred; but child rights principles call for a focus on the best interests of the child offender (notwithstanding the needs and concerns of adult victims); RJ focuses on repairing the harm of an offence, rather than addressing the root causes of offending behaviour Haines: - Restorative principles and methods are severely limited by their failure to take seriously the needs and troubles of child offenders, and to find constructive solutions to them. Morris: - Even the most restorative of meetings cannot magically undo the years of social marginalisation and exclusion experienced by so many offenders.

7 An alternative model: family-focused programming Recent programmes set up by Coram Children s Legal Centre & UNICEF take a different approach: family focussed, no restorative element and no blame in the programme: emphasises social work and therapeutic activities with children and their families. This model is treatment based : focus on understanding and addressing the family and community contexts which cause the child to offend. Seeks to address reasons behind, and causes of, a child s offending behaviour. Prioritise rehabilitative work with families, caregivers and children - to restore stability at home, strengthen relationships, improve parenting skills. Programs can incorporate conferencing - but only so far as these measures serve the primary purpose of reintegrating the child into society. A child s offending behaviour is not simply a matter of individual choice, but the product of broader structural factors which have important implications for social justice (Haines).

8 Family focused programming in practice Work with families is very important, as improved family stability, the building of better familial relationships and improved parenting will lower the chances of a child reoffending. (Anderson, 2010). Programmes established in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Tanzania and Kazakhstan: run by NGOs and based in activity centres Following assessment, individual programmes are developed based on the needs and interests of each child (counselling, remedial education, legal assistance, vocational training, arts and cultural activities, sports etc.) Parents, and other caregivers and guardians are viewed as key partners, in supporting the rehabilitation of the child. Particular focus on improving the child s self esteem, developing understanding of their behaviour and return to school. A child s time in the programme typically lasts from around 3-6 months.

9 Family focused programming: the evidence Evidence concerning the impact of the programmes is highly encouraging. Benefits of the programmes identified by children and families include: Improved communication and relationships at home and with others more broadly; Greater family stability and cohesion and improved parenting practices; Renewed interest in education and better performance in school; Enhanced livelihoods opportunities through having learned new and developed confidence; Overall increased levels of happiness and hope for the future. Very low rates of reoffending for children who participate in the programme. Previously, sitting talking with my parents was difficult. They used to look down on me as a child who was worthless and with nothing to say. Now my parents are eager to spend time with me. (Child, Tanzania).

10 Conclusions This model is still in its infancy, there are few examples of these models, and few studies that have evaluated their effectiveness and impact; Nevertheless the early indications of the evidence are very encouraging, and the programmes have been replicated; As international focus shifts towards prevention of crime rather than dealing with it consequences, this could be the moment for a systematic study exploring the impact of a family focussed approach, and the extent to which it can complement, as well as address some of the drawbacks and gaps presented by restorative justice disposals. ~Thank you!~

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