The Limits and Potential of Restorative Justice Decision-Making: Preliminary Findings From Case Studies in a National Study of Conferencing in Juvenile Justice

Gordon Bazemore, Florida Atlantic University
Mara F. Schiff, Florida Atlantic University

Restorative decision-making models--including family group conferencing, reparative boards, victim-offender dialogue and peacemaking circles--have emerged in the past five years as popular alternatives to adversarial procedures in juvenile courts. Using a variety of qualitative data from two intensive case studies in two states currently implementing a wide array of these programs, as well as interview and focus group data from six states implementing one or more of these practices, this paper examines the "restorativeness" of restorative justice conferencing and considers its community-building potential. Restorativeness is assessed using a principle-based model for qualitative evaluation of conferencing based on the normative theory of restorative justice centered on repair, stakeholder involvement, and transformation of the community/government role and relationship. The more difficult question of community-building is examined at the micro level based on program vision and practice directed at strengthening capacity for sustained responses to youth crime and conflict in informal community settings. Implications for various models of conferencing and prospects for future implementation are presented.

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Updated 05/20/2006