This paper defines restorative justice as a process, facilitated by an objective party that involves victim and offender in dialogue to resolve issues resulting from a crime or wrongdoing. It explains the origins of restorative practices going back as far as 2060 B.C. and the beginning of the restorative movement in North America, initiated by the First Nations Indian tribes of Canada, and grandfathered by Howard Zehr in the United States. A brief history of restorative justice as it relates to juvenile justice in the United States is presented, followed by an account of the development of the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice Initiative and its application in Lee County's Victim Offender Conference Program. In conclusion, this paper suggests that restorative justice contributes to more effective administration of public safety.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary (1985), restitution is, The act of restoring to the rightful owner something that has been taken away, lost, or surrendered, or A return to or restoration of a previous state or position. In his book, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr (2002) explains that Restorative Justice is a process to involve to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible (p.37). Three primary models have been widely used to carry out this process: dialogue between victim and offender, family group conferences, and peace-keeping circles. These encounters are led by facilitators who oversee and guide the process, balancing concern for all parties involved (Zehr, p.45). These restorative models allow the victim and offender to deal with the effects of the crime, personally, and may include family members, friends, any other individuals impacted by the crime, and professionals involved with follow-up services.
[...] Restorative dialogues, conferences, and peace-keeping circles, can be used before or after adjudication or in place of it. Incorporating these models into the criminal justice system frees up court dockets and encourages more thoughtful and effective sentencing. Judges knowledgeable about restorative practices and their positive results, working in systems that incorporate RJ, can be instrumental in reducing the load on courtroom proceedings and correctional systems by diverting appropriate cases to restorative processes. The overcrowding of prisons and the expense of maintaining them can be alleviated by assigning more appropriate, therefore, more meaningful consequences to offenders, directly related to their victims and the crimes committed. [...]
[...] The County Restorative Justice Officer, supported by paid and professional staff, determines which victims choose to participate in a conference. When those meetings include a first time offender, he may be able to relieve the court and corrections systems of significant numbers of cases. The RJ Officer also keeps track of agreements made during conferences. Volunteers play a crucial role in the Victim Offender Conference Program by working with victims, offering personal support, and facilitating conferences. They decrease County expenses in operating a restorative program and create a direct link between government and community. [...]
[...] The Juvenile Justice Reform Provisions of 1998 mandated the adoption of restorative justice as a guideline for the Illinois juvenile justice system. “Balanced and Restorative Justice strives to balance the attention paid to the needs of all parties affected by crime:victim, offender, and community” (Juvenile Justice System, p. 114). In 2003 the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, created in 1983, promoted a Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) summit, attended by juvenile justice professionals from across the state. The Illinois BARJ Initiative was established in 2003 to support restorative justice with funding for trainings and various resources (“Implementing Restorative Justice:A Guide for Schools”). [...]
[...] Restorative practices have been shown to result in greater satisfaction for victims and lower recidivism rates for offenders in both adult and juvenile cases. In their report of the third phase of a study of 3,928 youth discharged from the Buxmont Academy's restorative programs, started in 1999 by the International Institute of Restorative Practices, Paul McCold and Ansik Chang (2008) state that three studies show a dramatic decline in offending rates, achieved through the systematic use of restorative practices which diminishes only modestly over time” (p.1). [...]
[...] The Restorative Justice Officer sends letters and questionnaires to victims after getting the information about cases from the police department. After adhering to the consequences laid out during a conference, juvenile offenders are freed from all court proceedings. If those agreements are not completed, youth are referred back to the court for judicial action. Volunteer facilitators from the community contact victims to determine whether they are interested in participating in a conference. If victims are willing, the facilitators arrange a time and place for a meeting and give the final report to the Restorative Justice Officer so that he can follow up on any agreements made during the conference. [...]
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