Community Conferencing

Posted November 19, 2013, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Com­mu­ni­ty Con­fer­enc­ing aims to involve the young offend­er, the vic­tim and their fam­i­lies in the deci­sion-mak­ing process with the objec­tive of reach­ing a group con­sen­sus on a just” out­come. The goals are to achieve rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, resti­tu­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion as well as to do case plan­ning when applicable.

What was the prob­lem the inno­va­tion sought to address?

Youth mis­be­hav­ior prob­lems are fam­i­ly prob­lems and often com­mu­ni­ty prob­lems. Bring­ing youth, fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ty stake­hold­ers and vic­tims into a process that seeks to address these issues pri­or to or very ear­ly on in the juve­nile jus­tice process can help juris­dic­tions divert youth.

What is the innovation?

The con­cept of Com­mu­ni­ty Con­fer­enc­ing (also called Fam­i­ly Group Con­fer­enc­ing) being used as a for­mal prac­tice by juve­nile jus­tice author­i­ties dates to 1989 in the New Zealand Youth Jus­tice Sys­tem. Accord­ing to the Youth Court of New Zealand, “[Com­mu­ni­ty] Con­fer­enc­ing aims to involve the young offend­er, the vic­tim and their fam­i­lies in the deci­sion-mak­ing process with the objec­tive of reach­ing a group con­sen­sus on a just’ out­come. In this way they reflect some aspects of cen­turies-old sanc­tion­ing and dis­pute res­o­lu­tion tra­di­tions of the Maori of New Zealand. They also encap­su­late restora­tive jus­tice ide­olo­gies, by includ­ing the vic­tim in the deci­sion-mak­ing process and encour­ag­ing the medi­a­tion of con­cerns between the vic­tim, the offend­er and their fam­i­lies as a means to achieve rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, resti­tu­tion and rehabilitation.”

In the U.S., prac­ti­tion­ers such as the Com­mu­ni­ty Con­fer­enc­ing Cen­ter in Bal­ti­more, Mary­land, imple­ment this mod­el in com­mu­ni­ties, schools and the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem to repair the harm caused by offend­ing, divert youth from fur­ther pen­e­trat­ing the juve­nile sys­tem, involve fam­i­lies in ser­vice plan­ning and reduce recidi­vism. The Com­mu­ni­ty Con­fer­enc­ing Cen­ter has worked in part­ner­ship with the Mary­land Depart­ment of Juve­nile Ser­vices, police and courts for over 10 years. Over 7,000 young offend­ers, vic­tims and sup­port­ers have safe­ly and suc­cess­ful­ly resolved their own crimes and con­flicts through Com­mu­ni­ty Conferencing.

Why is this innovative?

The inno­va­tions relat­ed to Nar­row­ing the Pipeline with these approach­es are that they can be ini­ti­at­ed pri­or to any for­mal involve­ment with author­i­ties or ear­ly on in the juve­nile jus­tice process as a means to divert young peo­ple from fur­ther pen­e­tra­tion into the sys­tem, as a means of mean­ing­ful­ly involv­ing vic­tims in the process and as a means to have young peo­ple under­stand the impact of their actions and make amends.

Is There Evi­dence that this Inno­va­tion Works?

Re-offend­ing rates for young offend­ers who went through Com­mu­ni­ty Con­fer­enc­ing are 60% low­er than for those who went through the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem.” Irvine, J. & Iyen­gar, L. (2005). Match-con­trolled study of diver­sion for young offend­ers: Com­mu­ni­ty con­fer­enc­ing vs. juve­nile ser­vices. Report of the Mary­land Depart­ment of Juve­nile Services.

Are There Issues, Lim­its or Unin­tend­ed Out­comes to Con­sid­er Dur­ing Design and Implementation?

Com­mu­ni­ty and Fam­i­ly Group Con­fer­enc­ing are often cit­ed as a Restora­tive Jus­tice prac­tice but some con­cern has been raised that in prac­tice the con­fer­ences can stray from the Restora­tive Jus­tice prin­ci­ples. And like any prac­tice or pro­gram, there can be issues with cor­rect­ly imple­ment­ing the model.

A report by the Youth Court of New Zealand states, Unfor­tu­nate­ly there is evi­dence that the young per­son­’s voice often seems to become sub­sumed with­in the fam­i­ly’s. It should be not­ed how­ev­er that even rel­a­tive­ly low rates of involve­ment in con­fer­ences are still con­sid­er­ably high­er than young peo­ple’s involve­ment in con­ven­tion­al court processes.”

Links

Con­tacts

Lau­ren Abram­son, PhD
Founder, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Com­mu­ni­ty Con­fer­enc­ing Center
Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor, Child Psy­chi­a­try, Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine

[email protected]​jhmi.​edu
(410) 8897400

Media: vimeo​.com/​36295061

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