NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restorative Justice Programs

March 15, 2001

"Restorative justice" programs offer something besides jails to control crime. They are based on the principles of victim restoration, offender accountability and offender reintegration into the community. In sharp contrast to the conventional justice system, the focus on victims is key.

Since 1997, the city of Indianapolis has been experimenting with a restorative justice program for youthful first-time offenders.

  • Once a youth is arrested, a restorative justice coordinator arranges a conference involving the violator, the victims and their families, and supporters.
  • A specially trained police officer facilitates at the conference, which gives the victim an opportunity to confront the perpetrator, explain how he or she was harmed and ask questions of the offender.
  • The goal is to arrive at a reparation agreement under which the offender takes certain actions -- including contrition, service to the victim and community service.

Ed McGarrell, a criminology professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, and the Hudson Institute have been documenting the results of the program. The researchers randomly assign first-time offenders age 14 and younger, excluding those who have committed serious violent crimes, to either the traditional system or the restorative justice program. About 230 youths have participated in conferences and a like number in the control group.

Among the results:

  • Over 90 percent of victims say they were satisfied with how their case was handled under restorative justice, compared to only 68 percent satisfied with other court-ordered remedies.
  • Over 80 percent of the youths have fulfilled their restorative justice agreements, compared to a poor 58 percent completion rate in the control group.
  • The rearrest rate for offenders from restorative justice conferences was 25 to 45 percent less than for offenders from the control group.

The program is modeled on ones developed in Australia and New Zealand.

Source: Morgan O. Reynolds (Director of the Criminal Justice Center at the NCPA), "Restorative Justice, American Style," Brief Analysis No. 353, March 15, 200, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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