Understanding Restorative Conferencing: A Case Study in Informal Decisionmaking in the Response to Youth Crime

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

A number of different strategies have emerged under the umbrella of restorative decisionmaking. Based on examination of these prototypes prior to this study, it has been apparent that both structural and procedural differences appear to be to some degree linked to the goals, intervention priorities, and ideological orientations of these programs. Despite these programmatic differences, there are common concerns and challenges that cut across model distinctions, as well as important differences within model types. It is therefore important to first identify and describe those common theoretical and policy elements in the restorative conferencing movement that seem to most clearly differentiate these innovations as a group both from formal justice processes, and from other non-restorative informal justice processes. We use the generic term conferencing to include a broad array of restorative decisionmaking programs aimed at addressing the aftermath of a crime, or other harmful act not formally charged as a crime. What makes the response and the process itself restorative, is adherence to a set of core principles and a focus on the overall goal of repairing the harm crime causes. In an evolving restorative justice movement where new hybridized approaches seem to be emerging almost monthly, we hope to focus attention away from programmatic distinctions that may be rather parochial, arbitrary, and temporary and instead emphasize theoretical and philosophical distinctions with more universal application to policy, practice and research.

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Updated 05/20/2006