....There are many proponents for using restorative methods as an alternative to our mainstream criminal justice system, especially when the offender is a juvenile. Studies show that victims are often more satisfied with the restorative approach than they are with typical courtroom adjudication.  Parents are also commonly among the supporters of restorative alternatives. It comes to no surprise that youth offenders prefer conferencing to our current top-down criminal justice system.

And finally, all of the participants generally believe restorative programs to be procedurally fair. Most importantly, restorative programs are a great alternative for juveniles because they work. Studies consistently show that young offenders that participate in restorative programs are significantly less likely to recidivate. This point alone makes the restorative approach a better alternative than incarceration.

An example of restorative justice in action helps demonstrate the positive impact that it provides. Several years ago in North Minneapolis, a 17-year-old African American male was arrested for attempted armed robbery of an adult European American neighbor. In the resulting mediation, the
victim, his family, supporters of the victim, the offender, his family, and several other supporters were brought together (20 people in all).

During mediation, a talking piece was instituted and the victim expressed the harm done and the nature of the event. Empathy for the victim was expressed by the young man’s family. The young man then reflected on his situation of being motivated by drug use/sales and wanting to recover the $200 previously stolen from him in a drug deal. The family of the offender then showed solidarity against firearms and drug use. The offender’s brother discusses what it is like to grow up as a young African American male and shows disappointment as well as support for his brother.

In the conclusion of the session, the family and community members present show support for both parties and aspire to strengthen the community through the experience. The victim tells the offender that he wants to take him out to lunch and everyone involved noted that the session was more effective than previously thought, both in terms of conflict resolution as well as strengthening the community.

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