Source: (2001) Contemporary Justice Review 4(3, 4): 321-340

Restorative justice practices have long been available to the economically privileged, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in our overburdened and retributive system. For the past two years we have been involved in the development and implementation of a community conferencing program in several low-income, disinvested neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland. Active partnerships have been developed with police, juvenile justice, schools, and community groups; and referrals are now received from all of these sectors. Community conferences are facilitated by community volunteers and have resulted in successful agreements for incidents ranging from misdemeanor crimes to truancy to intractable community conflicts. Initial challenges to implementing the program have been formidable, and many lessons have been learned. Decisions about what to centralize (quality control, referrals, and evaluation) and decentralize (conference location and follow-up) have been critical to program success. Other implementation issues and guideposts for development of similar programs are discussed.