The Effectiveness of Various Restorative Justice Interventions on Recidivism Outcomes Among Juvenile Offenders

Date01 October 2017
Published date01 October 2017
Subject MatterArticles
The Effectiveness of Various
Restorative Justice Interventions
on Recidivism Outcomes Among
Juvenile Offenders
Jeff Bouffard
, Maisha Cooper
, and Kathleen Bergseth
Research has generally supported the effectiveness of restorative justice (RJ) programs on a number
of outcomes; however, little research has examined the effectiveness of variations in the inter-
vention. This study examined several variations of an RJ program for juvenile offenders, including
direct mediation, indirect forms of victim/offender mediation accomplished without direct victim/
offender contact, the use of community panels (i.e., with community representatives when no direct
victim was available), and a group who received only minimal interaction with RJ staff. Results
supported the effectiveness of a number of variations in program implementation. Implications for
future research and potential improvements to the RJ model are discussed.
restorative justice, juvenile justice, recidivism, program evaluation, juvenile court
Developing and implementing programs that can lower juvenile recidivism rates is an important
policy challenge (Bradshaw, Rosenborough, & Umbreit, 2006). In recent years, there has been a
shifttowardamorerestorativeapproachtojuvenile delinquency and crime (Braithwaite, 2007).
Within the past 30 years (Okada, 2011), the use of restorative justice (RJ) programming has
been increasing in the United States and other countries in response to both low-level, and in
some cases, more serious types of juvenile delinquency and adult crime (Bazemore & Umbreit,
2001; Bradshaw et al., 2006). RJ programs are typically based on a nonadversarial interaction
between victims, offenders, and other individuals impacted by the criminal act in order to
repair the damage caused by the crime and to encourage offender accountability (Bergseth
& Bouffard, 2007).
Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA
North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jeff Bouffard, Sam Houston State University, PO Box 2296, Beto CJ Center, Huntsville, TX 77341, USA.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
2017, Vol. 15(4) 465-480
ªThe Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1541204016647428
In some instances, these programs have demonstrated better outcomes than traditional court
procedures on almost every variable for victims and offenders, including assessing perceptions of
fairness, satisfaction, opportunity to tell their story, and perceptions that their opinions were satis-
factorily taken into consideration (Poulson, 2003). Widespread interest in expanding these programs
is understandable (Bergseth & Bouffard, 2007) given that research has demonstrated the success of
RJ programs in achieving a number of their goals. For instance , research has revealed that RJ
programs can increase involvement of the community and victim in the justice process, produce
greater satisfaction with case outcomes, and improve offender compliance and perceptions of
procedural fairness (Latimer, Dowden, & Muise, 2005; Leonard & Kenny, 2011). Importantly, a
number of studies have also demonstrated recidivism reductions (Bergseth & Bouffard, 2007, 2012;
Bradshaw et al., 2006; Braithwaite, 2007; McCold & Wachtel, 1998). These results in particular may
have the most influence on policy makers who are considering the use of these alternative inter-
ventions in place of more traditional, retributive approaches but who may also have concerns about
the effect of such programs on public safety.
RJ Programming
Theoretical foundations. To date, ‘‘there is not one causal theory which fully explains the mechanisms
by which restorative justice programming affects outcomes such as victim satisfaction and recidi-
vism’’(Strang, Sherman, Mayo-Wilson, Woods, & Ariel, 2013, p. 9). Therefore, scholars have relied
upon a combination of theoretical perspectives to explain the expected effects of both minimal
(indirect) and maximized (direct) interventions such as Braithwaite’s (1989) reintegrative shaming
theory and Tyler’s (1990) procedural justice theory. These two theoretical perspectives suggest that
there are specific ways to respond to offending that may ‘‘increase ... likelihood of future com-
pliance with the law’’ (Tyler, Sherman, Strang, Barnes, & Woods, 2007, p. 554).
Through the process of stigmatizing the act, rather than the offender, reintegrative shaming is
able to reconnect the offender with members of the community and their families as well as
encourage a positive self-image (Braithwaite, 1989; Tyler et al., 2007) that then lessens the like-
lihood of the individual ‘‘adopting a deviant master status’’ (Hay, 2001, p. 134). RJ programs
facilitate these processes in various ways, such as by bringing the involved parties together in a
nonjudgmental atmosphere, allowing all parties to be involved with the decision-making process,
and strengthening social ties.
Likewise, procedural justice theory posits that if an offender experiences fairness in the handling
of their case, and in the decision-making regarding the response to their criminal behavior, they are
more likely to attribute legitimacy to the law and legal authorities (Tyler et al., 2007). Tyler,
Sherman, Strang, Barnes, and Woods (2007) suggest that this sense of legitimacy then encourages
the offender to become a law-abiding citizen rather than reject the sanction as unfair or undeserved.
Furthermore, they note that RJ programs facilitate procedural justice by allowing offenders’ the
opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, by providing consistent and nonbiased
adherence to the rules, and allowing for the ‘‘communication of respect for offenders as people’
(Tyler et al., 2007, p. 556).
RJ programming types. RJ interventions typically take the form of either direct communication
between the victim and offender, such as victim–offender mediation (VOM), family group confer-
encing (FGC), or circle sentencing (Bazemore & Umbreit, 2001; Bradshaw et al., 2006; McGarrell
& Hipple, 2007) or programs in which community members serve as proxies for the victim (e.g.,
community/reparative boards, victim impact panels; Bazemore & Umbreit, 2001; Bonta, Wallace-
Capretta, & Rooney, 1998; Crawford & Newburn, 2002; Fors & Rojek, 1999). In some cases, RJ
programs have also made use of indirect mediation, in which a neutral third party negotiates an
466 Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 15(4)

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