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