Source: (2005) In Elizabeth Elliott and Robert M. Gordon, eds., New Directions in Restorative Justice: Issues, Practice, Evaluation. Cullompton, UK: Willan Publishing. Pp. 153-174.
Two studies on restorative justice conducted in recent years examined variability in the conference process and compared outcomes for court and conference cases from victims’ perspectives. The first study focused on restorative justice conferences in South Australia. Researchers observed 89 youth justice conferences and interviewed the victims and offenders involved in the conferences. The second study, named the Sexual Assault Archival Study, was also conducted in South Australia. It compared case outcomes for juvenile sexual offense cases for 227 court cases, 119 conferences, and 41 formal cautions. The first study found that conferences could have positive effects and outcomes for victims, but the effects could be modest and might not occur in most cases. The second study found that victims were better served when their case went to conference rather than to court. This was because an offender admitted responsibility for an offense prior to a conference; whereas, about half of court cases were dismissed or withdrawn. Also, conference proceedings focused on victim needs and harms; court proceedings focused on proving a defendant’s guilt and imposing sanctions that reflected the seriousness of the crime. Restorative justice advocates and critics should recognize the significance of both studies; advocates should recognize the realistic and variable expectations for victims involved in a restorative conference; and critics of restorative justice conferences should recognize a court proceeding’s limited ability to vindicate and help victims. Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, www.ncjrs.gov.
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