Can Restorative Conferencing Build Social Capital: The Search for Community Building

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 data from qualitative case studies of programs, this paper examines the how conferencing practitioners operationalize the core restorative principle that victim, offender and community should have maximum opportunities for participation in decisionmakinginclusion, communication, and role-taking--. We consider three specific dimensions of restorativeness appropriate to this priciple of restorative justice conferencing and consider 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