More Communities Exploring Restorative Justice for Youth

Posted May 24, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young black man is similing and looking right at the camera.

Juve­nile jus­tice juris­dic­tions across the nation — in California’s Los Ange­les and Alame­da coun­ties, Philadel­phia and David­son coun­ty in Ten­nessee — are using restora­tive jus­tice to divert youth who have caused harm. The approach, which is gain­ing trac­tion in schools, com­mu­ni­ties and sys­tems, trades court pro­ceed­ings for com­mu­ni­ty-based responses.

Restora­tive Jus­tice Is an Emerg­ing Movement

Impact Jus­tice, a grantee of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, is work­ing to grow the net­work of jus­tice advo­cates, com­mu­ni­ty-based prac­ti­tion­ers and sys­tem part­ners who are com­mit­ted to apply­ing restora­tive jus­tice prac­tices in youth justice.

It’s encour­ag­ing to see more com­mu­ni­ties tak­ing up the work of shift­ing mind­sets and build­ing part­ner­ships to cre­ate sys­tems that affirm that young peo­ple can grow through their mis­takes with guid­ance and sup­port,” says Liane Rozzell, a senior pol­i­cy asso­ciate with the Casey Foundation.

Restora­tive jus­tice sup­ports reha­bil­i­ta­tion by focus­ing on account­abil­i­ty, heal­ing and repair­ing harms. A com­po­nent of this approach, called restora­tive jus­tice con­fer­enc­ing, con­nects the per­son who was harmed with the young per­son respon­si­ble for exact­ing harm. These par­tic­i­pants, along with facil­i­ta­tors and oth­er sup­port­ers, work to reach a con­sen­sus on how to repair the harm caused. Young peo­ple deserve oppor­tu­ni­ties to real­ize their poten­tial, even when they make seri­ous mis­takes,” Rozzell explains. Those they have harmed also deserve to have their needs met.”

Young peo­ple who par­tic­i­pate in restora­tive jus­tice pro­grams are less like­ly to reof­fend rel­a­tive to their coun­ter­parts in the court sys­tem, accord­ing to a 2021 Depart­ment of Jus­tice lit­er­a­ture review. Peo­ple who expe­ri­enced harm also have good things to say about the approach, as indi­cat­ed in an eval­u­a­tion of a com­mu­ni­ty-based restora­tive jus­tice pro­gram in Alame­da Coun­ty — home to Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. The eval­u­a­tion found that 91% of par­tic­i­pants who had expe­ri­enced harm report­ed being sat­is­fied with the process.

Account­abil­i­ty Dif­fers From Punishment

Peo­ple can con­fuse account­abil­i­ty and pun­ish­ment, but they are not the same,” says Rozzell.

Account­abil­i­ty, accord­ing to restora­tive jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers, involves tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for your actions; acknowl­edg­ing your impact; express­ing remorse; col­lab­o­rat­ing with those harmed to repair the wrong and not repeat­ing sim­i­lar harms.

An Exam­ple of Restora­tive Jus­tice in Practice 

I feel like every per­son harmed — and every young per­son respon­si­ble for harm — should have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to know there’s a restora­tive jus­tice process avail­able to them,” says Travis Clay­brooks. A for­mer Nashville police offi­cer, Clay­brooks now serves as the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Raphah Insti­tute, an Impact Jus­tice part­ner in Nashville. His com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tion facil­i­tates restora­tive jus­tice con­fer­ences for cas­es referred by court or law enforce­ment partners.

In one of these cas­es, a 14-year-old boy was involved in a car acci­dent that end­ed the life of a 79-year-old hus­band and father. Accord­ing to Clay­brooks, the deceased man’s fam­i­ly did not want a harsh pun­ish­ment for the boy. Even in their deep grief, the fam­i­ly kept say­ing that they did not want that child to go to prison but they did want some­thing to be done.”

What’s more, the teen and his fam­i­ly want­ed a way to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for what he had done while also sup­port­ing the sur­viv­ing fam­i­ly as they sought to heal. Every­one involved in the case agreed to the lengthy process of facil­i­ta­tion and con­fer­enc­ing instead of a lengthy court battle.

He’s a good kid who made a very poor deci­sion, and he knew that own­ing up to it was the right thing to do,” Clay­brooks explains. At the same time, the only way the fam­i­ly would get clo­sure and heal­ing in this sit­u­a­tion was through a restora­tive jus­tice process.”

Casey Foun­da­tion Resources to Learn More About Restora­tive Justice

  • In 2021, Casey host­ed two webi­na­rs on how com­mu­ni­ties can use restora­tive jus­tice as a con­struc­tive and more equi­table response when young peo­ple break the law and cause harm to oth­ers. The webi­na­rs are geared toward youth jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers, racial jus­tice advo­cates and lead­ers of youth-ori­en­t­ed com­­mu­ni­­ty-based organizations.
  • Casey has also issued a brief that presents the research case for juris­dic­tions to sig­nif­i­cant­ly divert young peo­ple from courts to into com­mu­ni­ty-based respons­es. Arrest­ing young peo­ple and for­mal­ly pro­cess­ing their cas­es in juve­nile court sig­nif­i­cant­ly increas­es their like­li­hood of sub­se­quent arrests while reduc­ing their odds of future suc­cess in school and employ­ment, the evi­dence suggests.

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