Restoring Community

These articles were formerly posted on our Restorative Works website.

By Laura Mirsky

I began my day at an 8 a.m. staff meeting, and was warmly welcomed by Mark, the staff coordinator, and the counselors, who seemed like a dedicated and enthusiastic group of (mostly) young people. As the day went on, I would see just how dedicated they were. I then set about to be a fly on the wall. It was to be a rather unusual day for the school, but I had no inkling of that yet.

It was the last two weeks of school and “the natives were restless,” as one counselor put it. Arrangements were discussed for the big school picnic planned for the next day. To complicate matters, half of the staff was to leave for a meeting in the afternoon. There was talk of drug testing: One student had reported using marijuana the week before.

I went with Shaun to the “downstairs community’s” morning circle meeting. (I would later learn that the school was divided into two communities—the downstairs and the upstairs—for a total of about 75 kids, in grades 7 through 12.) The downstairs community was ready for the meeting, sitting in chairs in a circle, when Shaun and I arrived. No staff member had told them to do this. They had taken the initiative upon themselves, apparently as a matter of course. I found this impressive, as I knew these kids had been sent there because they had been labeled “problems” by their school district or the courts. Looking around the circle, the kids appeared to represent a wide range—racially, socially and in terms of age and maturity.

There was an atmosphere of happy bustle in the room. “Good morning,” said Shaun to the kids. “Good morning Shaun!” the kids sang back. I took a seat outside the circle and the kids immediately asked me to pull my chair into it, implying: “There are no outsiders here.” Right off the bat I felt welcomed by the group, and it felt good. Sitting in the circle, I could no longer feel like a fly on the wall. Looking back on it, I realize how smart this welcoming ritual is. It’s a mechanism by which newcomers to the school are not left to feel like outsiders, as so many of them must feel in the outside world.

The meeting began with the questions: “Any problems? Announcements?”—not from Shaun, the counselor, as I expected, but from the kids. This was no fluke, I would learn as the day wore on, but central to the school’s philosophy, and indicative of how kids at CSF are asked to take responsibility for themselves. I could see that what was happening here was different from the routine at other schools. How many schools begin the day with kids of all ages meeting in a circle to discuss what’s on their minds?

Just then my eyes were caught by a poster on the wall entitled “How Do You Feel?” illustrated with drawings of faces depicting different emotions: “Bored, Frustrated, Confident, Joyful...” I saw many of the emotions pictured on the poster reflected on the faces of the kids in the circle, and realized that this was a place where they were encouraged to feel, name, own and understand their emotions.

In the meeting, some kids seemed to stand out naturally as leaders and they did much of the talking and questioning of the other kids. “People need to start bringing stuff in for the picnic,” said one girl. Another answered, “I live in a group home so I can only bring one thing.” With that comment, I got my first inkling of what some of the kids’ lives must be like.

The kids now called for introductions, I assume because a stranger was in their midst—me. We went around the circle and everyone said his or her name, age and where they were from. Kids displayed varying degrees of alertness and sleepiness, affect and lack thereof, some mumbling, some voluble—just like any other group of teenagers perhaps, except that here, a higher than usual number said that they lived in group homes.

I introduced myself and was greeted with applause and a hearty group “Welcome to CSF!” I was surprised at how much this moved me. Again, I would realize that this was all part of the wise welcoming ritual.

There followed a brief discussion of the school’s “cardinal rules” which seemed to be for the benefit of the new kids in school. Kids can arrive at CSF at any time of year, depending on the circumstances which brought them. Again, the request for this discussion came from kids concerned about their fellow students.

There are five cardinal rules which students learn when they’re given an orientation packet on arrival. 1. No drug or alcohol use. 2. No stealing. 3. No violence or threats of violence to people or property. 4. No leaving school premises without permission. 5. No sexual activity.

A girl now asked a new boy: “What does R.C. mean?” He tried hard to articulate an answer: “When they’re doing something wrong and you find out, and they don’t tell anybody, and if you don’t tell anybody you’ll get in trouble, too.”

In the orientation packet are a few paragraphs entitled “Responsible Concern,” by Donald J. Ottenberg, M.D., which include the following: “If I’m lying to myself or others—tell me. .. and if I’m not strong enough to take it to my group and counselor, you take it there for me. That will be an act of courage and an act of love.”

The new boy had focused on what would happen to him—he’d “get in trouble”—if he didn’t practice responsible concern. He apparently hadn’t been a part of the community long enough yet to understand how he would benefit from the practice, or how he would help others. But—because the other kids were asking him to—he was trying to get it, and that in itself was remarkable to witness.

Some “side conversations” began to pop up in the group—kids talking among themselves. Counselor Jay, who had recently joined the circle, now asked, a bit sternly, “Do we need to go over the norms, or what?” It seemed that even something as relatively minor as talking out of turn during the circle meeting was very important in the world of the school, not out of some arbitrary concept of discipline, but to maintain a steady structure in these kids’ otherwise chaotic lives. (The “group norms,” decided by the group as a whole, include things like: No side conversations, Confront appropriately, No sleeping, Be caring, and Participate.)

Time was now called for the end of the meeting, and the kids—without being told—automatically transformed the room from a meeting place, with chairs in a circle, into a classroom, with tables and chairs set up for learning.

A personable young man of about 13 now took me on a tour of the school. “We set up our classes ourselves,” he told me, confirming what I’d just seen. I asked how the classes were divided up in terms of grades. He said that all grades learned together in each class—be it math, science, English, social studies, music, art or industrial arts: “individual learning,” he called it.

In English class, for instance, they had writing assignments, time lines and vocabulary. In social studies they were learning about the Great Depression. They stayed longer in their classes here than they do in public school—45 minutes as opposed to 35. But, he said, here he didn’t pay attention to time the way he did in public school. He also told me that here kids helped with school maintenance.

My tour guide now dropped me off with Bob Costello, Director of Training for the International Institute for Restorative Practices, who gave me a thorough overview of the CSF organization, including its history and philosophy. Community Service Foundation was started in 1977 by public school teachers Ted and Susan Wachtel as a school for kids who were having trouble at public school. Now it is three separate organizations which work together: the Community Service Foundation, Buxmont Academy and the International Institute for Restorative Practices. Six schools, all called either Community Service Foundation or Buxmont Academy by the kids, in Bucks, Montgomery and Northampton counties, are licensed by the state of Pennsylvania as private academic schools, as well as providers of drug and alcohol and behavioral counseling.

There is not a lot of emphasis on whether fellow classmates were sent there by the courts or by their school district, said Bob, adding, “It’s one big family.” They stay from several months to years, depending on “who’s paying and what the issues were” that brought them. The organization also has a residential program of 12 foster group homes. All the programs have been “remarkably successful with difficult kids,” said Bob.

We got into the theory behind restorative practices—the philosophy behind all the schools and programs. When there is high control and low support of kids the result is punitive. In that model, when punishment fails, the solution is to punish harder. At the opposite extreme—high support and low control—the outcome is permissive. Both are disrespectful of kids. The ideal is to provide both high control and high support at the same time, the outcome being restorative. “This doesn’t mean no consequences, or that people always like what happens to them,” said Bob, “but they have a say.” It’s “communitarian,” he concluded. Bob told me that they’ve taken restorative practices techniques to public schools with the SaferSanerSchools program. “We have this dream that we’ll put ourselves out of business,” he said.

“What happens if a kid is found with drugs at school?” I asked. First, he said, they ask the kid what happened, and if the presence of drugs is confirmed, police are notified. “We ask the kid who has been affected by what he has done and what he needs to do to make things right,” said Bob. In a group, the child makes an announcement of what he has done and gets feedback. Then he is asked to make a plan to ensure it doesn’t happen again. “What they do is up to them,” said Bob: “That’s why it works.”

I now went to observe an English class. Kids sat at tables working on vocabulary assignments or making timelines for a movie they’d watched: “The Education of Little Tree.” Judy, the teacher, circulated, helping kids in turn. After a while she addressed the class, warning, “There’s far too much in the way of side conversation going on here.” A little later, she announced, “If it gets any louder, we’re going into a group.” A few minutes after that, Judy had the class pull their chairs into a circle for a discussion and asked what was going on.

“I was confronting,” said one boy. “I was talking,” said a few other children. “It annoyed Judy that I was talking,” said another. “I was cursing,” said yet another. “When people confront and they’re doing the same thing they’re telling other people not to do, they’re being hypocritical,” commented one girl. “What does this do to the class?” asked Judy. “It breaks up the class,” came the response. Judy then asked for “a quick go-around about what each of you will try to do to make it better.” The replies: “Do my work and get it all done.” “Sit there and be quiet.” “Not get mad and swear at people.” “Do my work and listen to my teacher.” “How about you, Judy?” asked one boy. “I’m going to try to keep my class focused,” she promised.

I had just heard a boy ask his teacher what she was going to do to help make her class function better. She had not gotten angry, accused him of being a smart aleck, or threatened punishment, but had openly and honestly replied to his question. Clearly, not just counselors, but teachers here also employed restorative practices techniques.

As it turned out, a little later in the day the entire school was called together into one big group. I didn’t witness the reasons for this unusual occurrence, but I heard that several arguments had broken out in two or three classes at once. I did sit in on the big group meeting.

One boy suggested that everyone in the circle “take ownership” for what they had done to cause the problems leading to the meltdown. “I called X a thief.” “I swore at X.” “I refused to put down any tables.” “I was confronting people inappropriately.” “I didn’t confront or support.” “I blew off (counselor) Jay,” ... said the kids.

Mark, the staff coordinator, now addressed the group, saying he was very disappointed. “It’s never been this chaotic,” he told them, and it made him sad and hurt. But, he said, he wasn’t going to sit there and scream. “I look around this room,” he said, “and at least 75 percent of the kids do what they need to do and say what they need to say.” He said that several people were repeatedly having problems. He encouraged them not to come to school, if they didn’t want to be there. But, he said, “if you want to end (the year) successfully, you’re welcome.”

Tracy, a counselor who was pregnant, told the group that in the last few days “people have been hurting me so bad.” She was afraid, she said, because she was “responsible for an unborn human being.” She continued, “I know you because you’re a student that gets sent here, but I care about you because you deserve to be cared about. ...This is your chance to take control. ... Make your choice or it will be made for you.”

After the meeting was over, I saw one of the boys who had been acting up apologize to Tracy, saying he felt very bad for hurting her. He said he knew how wrong it was because his girlfriend was pregnant too. It seemed very important to him that Tracy accept his apology. It didn’t appear that he was just going through the motions for effect. “Your body language was very threatening,” Tracy told him, making sure to give him feedback about his behavior.

Later I asked the staff what they thought had caused so many problems that day. Restlessness and fear about the imminent end of the school year was the consensus.

After lunch I attended a group feedback session, a structured process whereby kids passed a ball around and commented openly to each other, one at a time. I found this extremely moving: “When you help other people I feel proud of you.” “When you take a leadership position I feel confident you’ll do a good job.” “When you treat me like a human being I feel good because not that many people treat me like a human being.” “When you rush me I feel frustrated.” Each piece of feedback got a reply, none of which, to my amazement, was defensive: “I’m sorry.” “Thank you.”

I was also amazed to see that the group made sure that everyone got to give and get feedback, that nobody was left out. These kids clearly cared about each other very much. I was really beginning to see how restorative practices worked.

I now interviewed several students one on one, asking them how they had come to the school and what it had done for them. One boy, 16, said that he had been at the school for two years. He had been “acting up” at his old school and got caught with drugs and a gun. CSF had helped him, he said, because it “changed my anger” and taught him to accept the consequences of his actions. “When you get in trouble here,” he said, “you get to bring it up in group, make anger plans.” Next year he was going back to public school and hoped to graduate and get a job in construction. “I’m ready,” he said. “I know right from wrong. I know what I gotta do.” There are better things in life than “the streets,” he added. The most helpful thing he had learned? “Not to let people get me angry. I’ll just talk about it instead.”

Another boy, 14, had been at CSF since January and loved it. He’d been out of control at his old school but here, he said, “if one of my friends confronts me, I stop.” “I used to run around and beat up stuff with baseball bats,” he said. “Now I’ve figured out I can take care of my stuff and seek positive attention.”

A 16-year-old girl told me she had been at the school for nine months. Before that she hadn’t been to school in six years. “I got into drugs and alcohol—whatever I could get my hands on,” she said. “In the beginning I hated it here,” she admitted, but now she liked it. She had learned that she was an alcoholic and took part in an intensive CSF after-school program. She lived in a CSF group home, spending weekends with her family. She had been clean for two months, having relapsed at six months. “My father is an alcoholic,” she said, “And I turned to it to hide my feelings.”

She said that she had received a great deal of support at CSF, but no “negative attention,” something she had previously sought out. “I started being positive and I’ve been getting praise up and down,” she said. She was studying for her G.E.D. with a CSF tutor and hoped to go on to community college. Restorative practices had helped her get along better with her family and “respect myself, most of all,” she said, adding: “They told me nobody can love me until I love myself.”

Another girl, 17, told me that she had been at CSF for a little over a year. She had been in juvenile detention and was on probation for truancy, bringing a weapon (an Exacto knife), and “a little bag of weed that wasn’t mine” to school. She had been in a group home but now lived at home again. She liked it at CSF because she felt safe and always had someone to talk to. She didn’t want to go back to public school, although that was what seemed to be planned for her. She was afraid she would be behind when she got back. But she definitely wanted to go to college, adding: “I’m very serious. I want to be all I can be.”

Asked how CSF was different from juvenile detention, she said: “All I gained there was weight.” Detention had made her worse — “more pissed off; it gave me an ‘F the world’ attitude.” Then she went to a group home where she was “breathing and eating CSF for ten months.” She still got mad, she said, but now she cared about things — her friends, her family, her future. “I didn’t even pay attention that I had a future,” she said: “Not even two minutes later, not even tomorrow.” Now, she said, she was “a totally different person.”

I interviewed a few more kids. Only one said she wasn’t happy at CSF. She hadn’t been there very long, and seemed to be having a hard time of it. She lived in a group home, where they checked her for drugs all the time. She said that she had changed a lot, and that she was “not touching drugs and not fighting.” She blamed other kids for the fact that “my name keeps coming up in a lot of stuff.” She was upset that things weren’t working out at CSF, but wished she were home with her mother. She had been given a choice: to sign and fulfill a “behavior contract” enabling her to stay, or to leave. She wasn’t sure which she would do, but she hadn’t made the decision to leave. It seemed there was hope for her yet.

At the end of the school day, I attended a staff meeting where the counselors discussed what had happened that day, in depth. “If the kids only knew how everything they said and did is analyzed, what would they think?” wondered one staff member. I brought up what I had noticed about the way certain kids seemed to be natural leaders. A counselor had an interesting response: “A lot of the kids who end up being leaders—their leadership qualities are what got them in trouble, but it’s the same thing that can get them out of trouble.”

I spent a whole day at CSF watching classes, circles, groups, feedback sessions and staff meetings and interviewing kids, many of whom seemed to have been on a collision course with disaster. Who knows what might have happened to them if they hadn’t been assigned to this place, where people not only cared about them but had figured out a specific, structured way to help them change their destructive — and self-destructive — behavior?

Here, kids weren’t being punished for their behavior. They had come from systems where that had been tried and hadn’t worked. Instead, they had come to a place which provided both control and support in equal measure. They were learning a concrete way to talk about and deal with their problems, with the help of their fellow classmates and staff members.

Above all, I felt the kids there were very lucky to have ended up at CSF. They were learning that, no matter where and what they had come from, they themselves were the only ones who were really responsible for their lives and able to change them for the better. How many of us never realize that?

By Paul McCold

Paper presented at the American Society of Criminology
annual meeting, November 13-16, 2002, Chicago, Illinois.

The IIRP gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the juvenile probation departments of Northampton, Bucks, Montgomery, and Lehigh counties, Pennsylvania, for providing access to court data used in this analysis.

The Community Service Foundation (CSF) and Buxmont Academy operate six school/day treatment programs (abbreviated as “CSF Buxmont schools”) in southeastern Pennsylvania. They are non-secure community treatment settings for adjudicated delinquent and at-risk youth. [1] Additionally, CSF operates three auxiliary programs—the residential, intensive supervision, and home and community programs. The residential program provides group home services to a portion of students attending CSF Buxmont schools. The intensive supervision program provides additional support to youth released from drug treatment facilities. Finally, the home and community program provides a variety of support services for youth experiencing family, emotional, and drug and alcohol related crises. Some students attending CSF Buxmont schools participate in multiple programs simultaneously.

All of these programs utilize what is broadly termed “restorative practices.” Restorative practices provide both high levels of control and high levels of support to encourage appropriate behavior .[2 ]The philosophy underlying these practices holds that human beings are happier, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things WITH them, rather than TO them or FOR them. This hypothesis maintains that the punitive and authoritarian TO mode and the permissive and paternalistic FOR mode are not as effective as the restorative, participatory, and engaging WITH mode.

CSF Buxmont has developed a culture in which “restorative” characterizes not only staff interaction with youth, but staff-to-staff and student-to-student relationships as well. [3] This researcher has coined the term “restorative milieu” because CSF Buxmont culture is comprised of many restorative techniques and processes and not just isolated restorative interventions.

Within this restorative milieu, youth are held accountable for their actions while being given the social and emotional support necessary to make changes. Restorative practices empower the young person and the group to develop their own behavioral standards and actively confront misbehavior. The young people act as a micro-community of support for each other, consciously building interdependency and a sense of responsibility to the community. This process is facilitated by CSF Buxmont staff.

CSF Buxmont schools have an excellent reputation for empowering youth to make positive changes. However, since their founding in 1977, they have never been formally evaluated. This analysis tests the effectiveness of restorative practices in encouraging positive changes among adjudicated delinquent and at-risk youth. However, correlation does not mean causation. To conclude that any observed changes in attitudes or behavior are the result of participation in CSF Buxmont’s restorative milieu, four conditions must be met:

1) The attitudes and behavior of youth must significantly improve.

2) These improvements must be positively related to the length of participation.

3) These improvements must remain after controlling for known risk factors, such as age, gender, race, and prior offending.

4) These improvements must remain after controlling for the effects, if any, between these risk factors and early program discharge (case selection bias).



This analysis presents the outcome experiences of the 919 youth discharged from CSF Buxmont schools between June 1, 1999 and August 30, 2001. The 334 youth discharged during the 1999-2000 school year and the 445 youth discharged during the 2000-2001 school year include all youth discharged during these school years. The 140 youth discharged during school year 1998-1999 include only those discharged during the final two weeks of that school year.

The total number of youth discharged from CSF Buxmont schools between the 1999-2000 school year and the 2000-2001 school year increased by 33% (from 334 to 445). Reflecting the expansion of CSF Buxmont programs generally, this increase in the number of discharges was greatest for school referrals, with a one year increase of 69% (from 104 to 176), compared to 18% among probation referred (from 192 to 226), and 13% for children and youth referrals (from 38 to 43).

Youth are referred to CSF Buxmont schools from three sources: juvenile probation (56% or 516), children and youth services (10% or 88), and individual school districts (34% or 315). Probation referrals are overrepresented among discharges prior to September 1999 (70%), and children and youth referrals are somewhat underrepresented (5%) during this time period.

Demographics. The demographic distribution of cases is presented in Table 1.

Table 1
CSF Buxmont Schools Sample

1) Gender

Overall, girls represented 28% (260) of all discharged youth, most of whom were referred by probation. A majority of children and youth referrals were girls (52%), compared to one-fourth of probation and school referrals (both 26%).

2) Age

Overall, 55% of youth were 16 years old or older upon entering CSF Buxmont schools. Probation referred youth were older than those referred by schools or children and youth. Most of probation referred youth (62%) were 16 years old or older when entering CSF Buxmont schools, compared to less than half of school and children and youth referrals (47% and 41% respectively). The average age on entry into CSF Buxmont schools was 15.8 years old for probation referred youth, 15.5 for school referred youth, and 15.3 for children and youth (F = 12.2; p < .001).

3) Race

Most youth referred to CSF Buxmont schools were white (77%), followed by black (11%) and Hispanic (7%). The race of youth differed significantly by referral source. The great majority of youth referred by probation and schools were white (78% and 79% respectfully), while a smaller majority of those referred by children and youth were white (64%). Hispanic youth totaled 17% of children and youth referrals, compared to 7% for probation and 6% for school referred youth. Black youth constituted 14% of those referred by children and youth, 11% of probation, and 10% of school referrals (ChiSq = 16.3, df = 6, p < .05).

4) County of referral

Youth are primarily referred by three counties: Bucks (57%), Montgomery (25%), and Northampton (15%). Three percent of referrals were from Lehigh, Monroe, and Chester counties (26, 3, and 1 referrals respectively). Most of those referred by probation were from Bucks (77%), with fewer from Montgomery (12%), and Northampton (7%). The largest percent of school referred youth were from Montgomery (43%), followed by Bucks (31%), and Northampton (23%). Among children and youth referrals, the largest percent were from Montgomery (39%) and Northampton (34%), with fewer from Bucks (26%).

Overall, race was unrelated to gender, with whites constituting 79% of boys and 75% of girls. Likewise, age was unrelated to gender, with the mean age upon entering CSF Buxmont schools being 15.7 years old for boys and 15.6 for girls. Hispanic youth were significantly younger (15.2), than were white youth (15.7), black youth (15.6), or Asian youth (15.5) (F = 2.69, df = 4, p < .05). Also, Hispanic youth tended to be younger with 62% under 16 at program entry, compared to 43% of whites, 48% of blacks, and 43% of others. Children and youth referrals tended to be younger, were twice as likely to be girls, and nearly three times more likely to be Hispanic than youth referred by probation or school. Because of the overrepresentation of Hispanic and younger youth referred by children and youth, this age by race relationship became insignificant once referral source was taken into account.

A higher proportion of youth from Northampton County were minorities (38%), than Montgomery (28%), or Bucks (13%). One-quarter of Northampton County referrals to CSF Buxmont schools were Hispanic, compared to 3% for Bucks County and 6% for Montgomery County. Compared to other counties, a higher proportion of youth referred from Bucks were white, from Northampton were Hispanic, and Montgomery were black.

Delinquency. Criminal history information was gathered during intake interviews on 666 youths, including 364 referred by probation, 228 by schools, and 74 by children and youth. Among these, all of the probation referrals, 39% of the school, and 32% of the children and youth referrals had been arrested prior to entering CSF Buxmont schools.

Among those arrested, drug or alcohol related offenses were the most common (29%), followed by assault-related offenses (26%), theft (22%), violations against the public order (12%), and other offenses (12%). Of those arrested for assault-related offenses, one-third involved aggravated assault or robbery (44 of 133). Less than 1% (5) were placed for a sexual offense.

Among those with previous arrests, probation referred youth were more likely to have committed drug and alcohol related offenses or theft related offenses (31% and 24%) than school (25% and 17%) or children and youth referred (13% and 19%). School referred youth with prior arrests were more likely to have committed an assault (32%) than probation (25%) or children and youth referrals (26%). Offense type did not differ between race or gender.

Arrest history distributed in much the same way as current offense in that probation referred youth had more serious criminal histories. Among those who had been arrested, 67% of probation, 46% of school, and 39% of those referred by children and youth had been arrested more than once. Among those with multiple arrests, the number of prior arrests did not differ between referral source, age on admission, gender, or race.

Among the youth with prior court adjudications, probation referred were more likely to have been first adjudicated before age 14 (25%) than school or children and youth referrals (both 12%). Age at first adjudication was unrelated to race or gender.


In April 1999, CSF Buxmont implemented the evaluation protocol of the Program Development and Evaluation System (ProDES), an outcome-based information system that tracks delinquents for the duration of his or her involvement with the juvenile justice system. This system was developed by Temple University’s Crime and Justice Research Center. Its primary focus is program development, providing a continuous flow of intermediate (changes during the program) and ultimate (recidivism and community adjustment) outcome information. This performance monitoring system was designed to track delinquent youth for Philadelphia Juvenile Court. Since 1993, ProDES has gathered data on more than 20,000 juvenile delinquents placed in more than 78 programs. [4]

ProDES collects information on each youth’s current offense, prior record, socio-demographic information, and family structure. Also, ProDES collects information through risk and needs assessments, and self-esteem and values assessments at three points: program entry, program discharge, and six months following discharge. This system’s scales have been empirically derived and have high reliability. Follow-up data is gathered by checking official court records, through the self report of juveniles and interviews with the juvenile’s caregivers. ProDES has demonstrated the utility of official records, parent reports, and self report data in monitoring program and system performance.

All new admissions were to be interviewed within one month and assessed not sooner than a week nor later than a month following admission. New admissions are students entering CSF Buxmont schools for the first time and students returning after an absence of three months or more (excluding summer break). Students admitted prior to April 1999 were treated as “grandfathers” and were not interviewed unless they were returning after an absence of three months or more. Students returning with less than three months of interruption (excluding summer break) are treated as a continuous stay with a period “out of program.”

Overall, matched intake-exit interviews were collected among half (49.8%) of the 919 discharged youth. Compliance with the protocols for the 665 youth admitted after August 1999 was 94% for assessments, 84% for intake interviews, and 80% for exit interviews. Eighty-eight percent of all intake interviews were conducted within the 30 day window.

Independent Variables

CSF Buxmont School/Day Treatment Exposure. Youths attend CSF Buxmont schools for differing lengths of time depending on a variety of factors. Most are returned to public school after a few months when their referral source and the CSF Buxmont staff deem that the youth’s behavior has sufficiently improved. Others are discharged when they turn 18, graduate, or complete their GED. Some youth are discharged for a variety of behavioral problems, most within a short period of time, but some after extensive participation.

The primary factor determining the length of exposure was discharge type. The two discharge types are defined as:

1) Normal Discharge—Youth successfully completes the program by returning to public school, graduating or receiving GED, or upon turning 18 years old.

2) Behavioral Discharge—Youth is discharged prior to completing program for failure to attend, running away, showing repeated noncompliance with program directives, violating conditions of their probation, or for an arrest resulting in a new placement.

Since the start of a new school year or semester presents minimally disruptive opportunities to return youth to public schools, many are discharged at these times. Because CSF Buxmont admits youth continuously over the course of the year, some near the end of the school semesters, length of stay for youth receiving normal discharges varies widely. Lastly, some youths attend CSF Buxmont schools for multiple school years, but most do not.

Overall, the mean length of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools was 104 school days (20.9 weeks), with a minimum of none (for 2 youths) and a maximum of 531 days (106 weeks). Half of all youth spent 87 days (17.4 weeks) or more. Among normal discharges, the average length of exposure was 118 school days (23.7 weeks), with half attending for 103 days (20.6 weeks) or longer. Among behavioral discharges, the average length of stay was 77.2 school days (15.4 weeks), with half being discharged within 58 school days (11.6 weeks). While probation referred youth were less likely to receive a behavioral discharge than those referred by schools or children and youth, the difference in length of exposure becomes insignificant, once type of discharge was taken into account. Among behavioral discharges, the length of program exposure did not significantly differ by the type of behavior problem.

Auxiliary Program Exposure. As stated above, CSF also operates a residential care program providing group home services, an intensive supervision program for youth returning to the community from residential drug rehabilitation programs, and a home and community program providing other various support services to youth in crisis. These programs operate as auxiliaries to CSF Buxmont schools.

Youth utilize various combinations of these programs as deemed necessary by their referral source, themselves, and CSF Buxmont staff. Youth referred by schools generally do not participate in these auxiliary programs. Some probation referred youth participate in a combination of all four programs.

Among the 88 children and youth referrals, 72% spent some time in residential care and the remainder did not participate in any auxiliary program. Among those that participated in residential care, the mean length of residential stay was 179 days, with half spending less than 166 days (min = 8, max = 546). The mean length of stay in residential care for those referred by children and youth was shorter for those receiving behavioral discharges (123 days) than it was for normal discharges (222 days) (F = 12.4, df = 1, p < .001).

Among the 516 youths referred by probation, 63% (325) participated in one or more auxiliary program. Among those that participated in only one of these programs, 11% (54) participated in residential care, 10% (52) in the home and community program, and 6% (29) in the intensive supervision program. Among those that participated in two or more auxiliary programs, 24% (124) participated in both residential care and intensive supervision, 4% (22) participated in residential care and home and community, and 3% (14) in both intensive supervision and home and community. Among probation referred youth, 6% (30) participated in all three auxiliary programs.

Among the 230 probation referred youth spending some time in residential care, the mean stay was 147 days with half spending less than 140 days (min = 2, max = 453). Among the 170 participating in the intensive supervision program, the mean length participation was 172 days with half spending less than 166 days (min = 1 max = 455). Among the 87 in the home and community program, the mean length of participation was 114 days with half participating less than 88 days (min = 3 max = 407). In any of these auxiliary programs, the length of participation for probation referred youth was not significantly different between normal and behavioral discharges.

Some of the probation referred youth participated in the intensive supervision program or home and community program prior to entering CSF Buxmont schools and some participated in one of these programs following discharge. Among the 516 probation referred youth, 5% (25) participated in intensive supervision prior to attending CSF Buxmont schools, and 26% (136) continued in the intensive supervision program after they were discharged. Also, 11% (54) participated in the home and community program prior to attending and 10% (53) participated in home and community following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools. The mean length of exposure to an auxiliary program prior to attendance was 47 days for intensive supervision (median = 8, min = 1, max = 252), and 69 days for home and community (median = 43, min = 1, max = 387). The mean length of participation in these programs following discharge is 71 days for intensive supervision (median = 62, min = 1, max = 214), and 75 days for the home and community program (median = 64, min = 8, max = 324).

There is an important caveat limiting the results presented in this report. Not all youth in CSF’s intensive supervision program or home and community program attended a CSF Buxmont school. Data was not collected for these youth. Since these youths may differ from those included in this study in a number of ways, the results of this evaluation can not be generalized to apply to these CSF auxiliary programs in their whole.

Complicating the analysis beyond the varying mixes of auxiliary program exposure, for youth attending a CSF Buxmont school, is that the length of this exposure is related to the length of attendance. This creates a high level of time-dependent multi-colinearity among the independent variables, making unbiased estimates of the independent effects of these programs problematic. This analysis focuses on the effect of the restorative milieu at CSF Buxmont schools on participating youth, taking into account the mix of auxiliary program exposure, but without attempting to isolate those effects. Therefore, results from this study need to be interpreted within the context of an evaluation of CSF Buxmont schools combined with CSF auxiliary program services.

Performance Measures

The performance of CSF Buxmont schools was evaluated using three distinct measures: program completion, youth attitudes, and offending following discharge.

Program Completion. Restorative practices demand that youth take an active role in maintaining the behavior and safety of the community, so it is expected that CSF Buxmont would retain youth at rates higher than other comparable programs. Therefore, the capacity of any program to retain their clients to normal discharge (i.e. successful program completion as defined above) is an important measure of effectiveness. CSF Buxmont schools admit youth with widely disparate personal and criminal histories. Yet despite this variety of risk factors, CSF Buxmont staff take pride in the fact that they work hard to retain the majority of participating youth to normal discharge/successful program completion. [5] Policy only requires behavioral discharge for behavior that clearly endangers the safety of others in the program.

Youth Attitudes. A successful program will demonstrate measurable positive changes in youth attitudes as a result of program exposure. Changes in youth attitudes were measured by comparing each youth’s response to a series of interview questions designed to measure social values and self-esteem administered shortly after entering the program to those concurrent with their discharge.

Offending Following Discharge. Finally, changes in each youth’s behavior were measured by reviewing juvenile and adult court records and noting any petitions for arrests occurring during the six months following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools. Arrests occurring while attending and resulting in discharge are not included in this measurement. The great majority of youth that offend after discharge do so within six months. While court petitions may not be the best measure of behavioral change, or even recidivism, it is a generally accepted and consistent measure of program success.


Program Completion

Figure 1
Reason for discharge by referral source for full school years only.
Figure 2
Percent of normal discharges by referral source and offense groups.

The capacity of any program to retain their clients to successful program completion/normal discharge is an important measure of effectiveness. Youth who complete a program are more likely to be compliant and therefore are expected to have more positive outcomes than youth receiving behavioral discharges. This potential for selection bias means a program’s completion rate is an important intervening variable between the length of program exposure and the effects of that exposure. Knowledge of the variables that explain noncompletion is critical in order to test and statistically control for this likely source of outcome bias.

Reasons for discharge from CSF Buxmont Schools for the 919 youth were as follows:

1) Youth who completed the program and returned to public school, graduated high school, or completed their GED (66%).

2) Youth discharged because of a new arrest or violation of probation, which resulted in a new placement order for that youth (7%).

3) Youth discharged because of extended absences or who ran away (12%).

4) Youth who otherwise repeatedly failed to respond to the program (16%).

Among the 919 youth in the sample, those referred by probation were significantly more likely to receive a normal discharge (72% of 516) than were those referred by schools (58% of 315) or by children and youth (60% of 88) (ChiSq = 16.4, df = 2, p < .001). A distribution of discharge type more representative of a typical school year is arrived by restricting analysis to data from full school years only (see Figure 1). Thus, successful completion rates for CSF Buxmont schools were 67% of probation, 53% of school, and 57% of children and youth referrals.

Among the 313 youth receiving behavioral discharges, 32% of probation, 12% of school, and none of the children and youth referrals were discharged because of a new arrest. School referred youth were more likely to be discharged for failure to attend (40%) than were those referred by probation (32%) or children and youth (20%). Children and youth referrals were more likely to be discharged for failure to respond (80% of 35) than probation (36% of 147) or school referred youth (48% of 131) (ChiSq = 36.9, df = 4, p < .001).

A multivariate discriminate analysis was conducted on the probability of completing the program successfully in order to determine characteristics that distinguish youth discharged for misbehavior. Results revealed that probation referrals and those charged with a drug offense were more likely than others to complete the program and receive a normal discharge. Also, black girls were less likely than others to receive a normal discharge (Wilks’ Lambda .98, .96, and .97 respectively, all p < .001, with 67% correctly classified).


Figure 3
Percent of normal discharges by race and gender.
Figure 4
Cumulative weeks of participation by reason for behavioral discharge.
Figure 5
Distribution of months participation by referral source (behavioral discharges).
Figure 6
Distribution of months participation by referral source (normal discharges).

As seen in Figure 2, a greater proportion of youth charged with a drug offense successfully completed to normal discharge. Also, probation referrals completed at a rate of 7-8% higher than others. Youth charged with a drug offense have an additional 10% higher normal discharge rate among probation referrals and 6% among those referred by other sources.

Figure 3 shows the race by gender interaction effect on discharge type. All race/gender groups except one have normal discharge rates above 60%. The exception was black girls, of whom only 41% were discharged normally.

How a youth is discharged determines, at least in part, the length of their participation. The overall median length of participation was 87 days, but 103 days for normal discharges and 58 days for behavioral discharges (Kolmogorov - Smirnov Z = 4.6, df = 1, p < .001).

A majority of behavioral discharges occurred within the first three months. As shown in Figure 4, youth discharged for failure to attend were more likely to fail during their first week (10% of 63) than nonresponsive youth (2% of 114) or arrested youth (2% of 144) (ChiSq = 11.0 df = 2, p < .01). Half of those discharged for failure to attend had participated for less than 8 weeks, compared to 12 weeks for other behavioral discharges. Differences between the reason for behavioral discharges were not statistically significant beyond the first week.

Within each type of discharge, the differences in the length of CSF Buxmont school exposure between referral types were insignificant (see Figure 5 and Figure 6). Once the higher completion rates of probation referred youth were accounted for, the length of exposure was determined more by the type of discharge than by the referral source. Comparing the two figures reveals that the shape of the distribution of exposure time was different for normal discharges than it was for behavioral discharges (approximating first-order and second-order delay functions, respectively).

A multivariate survival analysis was conducted on the number of days of exposure for the 311 behavioral discharges. Only one variable was predictive of time until behavioral discharge—youth who were also in CSF residential care remained in CSF Buxmont schools significantly longer than other youth (B = .200, Chi Sq = 10.1, df = 1, p = .0015). As shown in Figure 7, among those receiving a behavioral discharge, youth in residential care remained in the program longer than others. Among those youth not participating in residential care, one-quarter received behavioral discharges by 4 months, half by 9 months, and three-fourths by 17 months. Comparable proportions for residential care participants were 7 months, 16 months, and 29 months respectively. None of the demographic or delinquency variables were significantly related to the time until behavioral discharge. Differences in survival rates were not significant between referral sources, demographic groups, or prior delinquency.

Since residential care is not provided to school referred youth, there is a potential interaction effect between referral source and participation in this auxiliary program. To test whether the increase in survival rates for youth in residential care was simply a proxy for not being a school referred youth, the effect of residential care was tested among probation referrals only. Among this group, youth participating in residential care still had significantly greater survival rates (B = 2.16, ChiSq = 4.9, p = .027).

Youth Attitudes

Among the 723 intake interviews, 88% were conducted within 30 days and 91% within 6 weeks of the start of attendance at a CSF Buxmont school. The remaining intake interviews were excluded from the sample as not accurately reflecting the youth prior to admission, leaving 656 cases with a valid intake interview. Among these cases, 414 (63%) had a matching exit interview. Of these valid matched interviews, the minimum time between measures was 34 days and the maximum was 639 days, or 21 months (one youth with 774 days was excluded from the sample as an outlier). There were 365 (88%) with one year or less between measures and 49 (11%) with more than one year between measures. These interviews measured changes in social values and self-esteem.

Social Values

ProDES utilizes the 38-item Jessness Values Scale to measure changes in a youth’s attitudes toward social values. The scale ranges from 1 for the least to 10 for the most positive values score. The scale was found to be reliable on both the intake and exit interviews (36 items: Standardized alpha = .838 and .866, respectively). As shown in Figure 8, social values on program entry were normally distributed, with a mean of 5.34 and a median and mode of 5 (skewness = -.08).


Figure 7
Cumulative weeks of participation by CSF residential care (behavioral discharges).
Figure 8
Frequency distribution of social values score on entry.
Figure 9
Change in social values by type of discharge.
Figure 10
Frequency distribution of self-esteem score on entry.
Figure 11
Change in self-esteem by type of discharge.

A youth’s value score on entry to a CSF Buxmont school was a good predictor of their score on exit (r = .692, df = 412, p < .001). A few participating youth became less positive (9%), most remained fairly stable in their values (57%), while more than a third developed more positive social values (34%). A majority of all youth showed some improvement between measures. As shown in Figure 9, the net improvement was greater for normal discharges than it was for behavioral discharges. Also, behavioral discharges were nearly twice as likely to become more antisocial than normal discharges (ChiSq = 5.974, df = 2, p = .050).

Youth receiving behavioral discharges had lower social values scores on intake (mean = 4.97), compared to those receiving normal discharges (mean = 5.44) (F = 5.3418, df = 411, p < 0.05). There was an increase of 10.6% in positive social values among youth receiving normal discharges (from 5.44 to 6.01) (paired-t = 7.72, df = 327, p < .001). The 5.7% increase in mean social values for the 84 behavioral discharges, although it was in a positive direction, was not statistically significant (from 5.00 at entry to 5.29 at exit, paired t = 1.97, df = 83, p = 0.053).

Three questions were thought to be particularly useful in testing the effectiveness of restorative practices. These questions were related to acceptance of responsibility. At intake, 90% of all youth in CSF Buxmont schools agreed with the statement, “When I get into trouble, its my own fault”, compared to 100% at exit (paired-t = 6.65, df = 409, p < .001). Also, all youth that participated in CSF Buxmont schools became less likely to agree with the statement, “I am blamed at home for things that are not my fault” (from 56% to 48%; paired-t = 2.87, df = 411, p = .004). Further, normal discharges became less likely to agree with the statement, “I do not get a fair chance” (from 26% to 19%; paired-t = 2.31, df = 328, p = .022), while the change was insignificant for behavioral discharges (from 36.9% to 38.1%).

There were also significant improvements in youth attitudes toward authority as a result of attending CSF Buxmont schools. Youth were more likely to agree with the statement, “Police try to help” (from 47% to 100%; paired-t = 21.22, df = 406 , p < .001). Further, normal discharges were less likely to agree that “People in authority are bossy” (from 59% to 53%; paired t = 2.17, df = 324, p = .031), compared to a nonsignificant increase among behavioral discharges (from 63% to 66%; paired-t = -.60, df = 82, p = .552).


ProDES utilizes a 10 item self-esteem scale to measure changes in a youth’s self-image. The scale ranges from 1 for the lowest to 10 for the highest. The self-esteem scale was found to be reliable on both the intake and exit interviews (Standardized alpha = .873 and .888, respectively). As shown in Figure 10, self-esteem scores on program entry were highly skewed, with a mean of 7.88, a median of 9 and a mode of 11 (skewness = -1.22). Only 30% percent of youth entering CSF Buxmont schools recorded a self-esteem score below 8 and only 13% a score below 5.

A youth’s self-esteem score on entry was a good predictor of their score on exit (r = .6456, df = 412, p < .001). A few youth had lower self-esteem at exit (10%), most remained relatively stable (66%), and nearly a quarter of youth had substantial increases in their self-esteem (24%). As shown in Figure 11, normal discharges were nearly twice as likely to have a large increase in self-esteem (27%) than behavioral discharges (14%).


Table 2
Self-esteem Mean Scores at Intake and Exit by Type of Discharge


Among normal discharges, self-esteem scores improved by 8.8% (from 7.89 to 8.58; paired-t = 6.26, df = 326, p < .001). There was essentially no change in self-esteem scores for youth receiving behavioral discharges (from 7.87 to 7.88, p = .851). Normal discharges also had statistically significant increases on eight of the ten self-esteem questions, while behavioral discharges had no significant change on any of the self-esteem items (see Table 2).

Trends in Attitudes by Program Exposure

For youth receiving normal discharges, there was a statistically significant relationship between the change in youth attitudes and the length of program exposure (values r = +.157, df = 326, p = .004; esteem r = +.122, df = 326, p = .027). There was no relationship between program exposure and change in social values or self-esteem for youth receiving a behavioral discharge (r = -.012 and -.032, respectively).


Figure 12
Scattergram of change in social values by weeks between measures
(normal discharges).
Figure 13
Scattergram of change in self-esteem by weeks between measures
(normal discharges).

As shown in Figure 12, the longer youth who were normally discharged were exposed to CSF Buxmont schools, the more positive their values became. Difference scores for social values increased an average of .0183 for every week of participation. Beginning with the mean social values score on entry of 5.44, this corresponds to 0.34% improvement per week, 1.35% per month, 4.37% after three months, and 8.75% after six months.

There was a corresponding increase in self-esteem scores for youth receiving normal discharges as shown in Figure 13. Self-esteem scores increased an average of .0217 for every week of participation. Beginning from the intake average of 7.89, this change corresponds to 0.28% improvement per week, 1.10% per month, 3.58% after three months, and 7.15% after six months. These improvements in social values and self-esteem were unrelated to referral source, gender, age, race, risk, or to participation in a CSF auxiliary program.

To explore a possible nonlinear relationship between the changes in youth attitudes and the length of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools, mean scale scores for each month between measures were computed for youth discharged normally. Half of these youth had 23 weeks or less between measures (min = 4 weeks, max = 91 weeks). Mean scores for any specific week are very unstable, since most weeks have fewer than 10 cases. A simple smoothing technique was employed to increase the number of cases for any given week by averaging the weighted scores across multiple weeks. The means for all weeks are based upon more than 20 cases when moving averages are computed over a 16-week period.

The trends produced by this 16-week smoothing reveal the relationship between the length of participation in CSF Buxmont schools and youth scores at intake and exit. As shown in Figure 14, both social values and self-esteem measures reveal a similar pattern over time. Youth with greater time between measures were more likely to have lower intake values and slightly higher exit scores. Because of the great variation in intake scores and the lack of trends in exit scores, neither are statistically different from zero. Youth with 33-52 weeks between measures had unusually high intake scores which were not reflected in the exit scores, with mean social value and self-esteem scores more than one-half of a point higher than the overall mean (0.510 and 0.671, respectively).

The trends of the difference scores (exit minus entry means) represent an estimate of the effect CSF Buxmont schools have on youth attitudes. As shown in Figure 15, there was nearly a 0.5 point mean improvement in both scales for youth with 9-36 weeks between measures. The effect appears to decline from 20-42 weeks, which is solely the effect of the unusually high intake scores of the youth with 35-52 weeks between measures. The effect on attitudes was most dramatic for youth spending a second year in program (52+ weeks between measures), but no obvious nonlinear trend emerges.

Exit interviews were not conducted with any youth participating for less than 30 days and matched interviews were only available on 22% of normal discharges with 30-60 days in attendance. For these reasons, the data are unable to estimate any tipping point in the shape of the relationship between length of exposure and attitude changes, as it must have occurred within the first 9 weeks following program entry.


Figure 14
Entry and exit attitudes by weeks between measures, 16 week weighted moving averages, and linear trends (normal discharges).
Figure 15
Attitude changes by weeks between measures, 16 week weighted moving averages, and linear trends (normal discharges).

Still, the overall trends were toward more positive social values and higher self-esteem the longer youth had participated CSF Buxmont schools. Linear least squares estimates of these trends with zero intercepts have slopes slightly higher than estimated from the zero-order correlations above (.0217 for social values and .0240 for self-esteem). These correspond to a 10.5% increase in social values and a 7.9% increase in self-esteem after 6 months of participation in CSF Buxmont schools.

Offending Following Discharge

Court records were available on 96% of the 919 youth discharged from CSF Buxmont schools. Overall, 10.4% had a new court petition and an additional 5.6% had a petition for a violation of probation filed in juvenile court during the six months following discharge. Behavioral discharges were nearly twice as likely (15.1% of 305) as normal discharges (7.9% of 581) to have a new court petition following discharge (ChiSq = 11.0, df = 1, p = .0009).

School referred youth were slightly more likely to have a new court petition (11.6% of 303) than probation (10.1% of 496) or those referred by children and youth (8% of 87). Also, boys were more likely than girls to have a new court petition (11.3% to 8.0%), but this difference was not statistically significant. Probation referred youth were, of course, more likely to be petitioned for a violation of probation (8%) than school (3%) or children and youth referrals (1%) (ChiSq = 12.8, df = 2, p = .002).

Black youth were nearly twice as likely to receive a new court petition (18% of 91) than other youth (10% of 795) (ChiSq = 5.6, df = 1, p = .017). Youth entering CSF Buxmont schools who were 16 years old or younger were more likely (12% of 621) than older youth (7% of 244) (ChiSq = 4.3, df = 1, p = .038), and those with a prior arrest were more likely (14% of 364) than others (8% of 286) to have a new court petition (ChiSq = 4.1, df = 1, p = .042).

Overall, the proportion of youth with a new court petition during the six months following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools was related to the weeks of participation. The rate of new petitions was 16.2% of the 277 youth who participated less than three months, compared to 7.7% of the 609 participating three months or longer (Lambda = .9878, df = 884, p = .001). For youth receiving a normal discharge, the reduction in offending following discharge held for both new petitions (Lambda = .9915, df = 579, p = .0265) and for all petitions (new petitions and probation violations combined) (Lambda = .9921, df = 579, p = .0317). Length of stay was not significantly related to offending following discharge for youth receiving a behavioral discharge.

As shown in Figure 16, those that attended for three months or longer and received normal discharges, representing more than half of all youth, had the lowest rate of new court petitions (6.1%). Behavioral discharges with less than three months of participation had the highest rate of offending following discharge (17.6%), followed by normal discharges with less than three months (14.5%), and behavioral discharges participating three months or longer (12.5%) (ChiSq = 20.6, df = 3, p < .001).


Figure 16
Percent with new court petitions by type of discharge and length of participation.
Figure 17
Percent with new court petitions by weeks of participation, 16 week weighted moving average, and linear trend (normal discharges).
Figure 18
Percent with new court petitions by weeks of participation, 16 week weighted moving average, and nonlinear trend (normal discharges).
Figure 19
Percent with new court petitions by length of participation and risk category (plus all court petitions for youth participating in intensive supervision following discharge).

A linear estimate of the relationship between length of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools and new court petition rates for youth receiving normal discharges is shown in Figure 17. Beginning at a 15% rate, the rate of new court petitions was reduced by 1% for every three weeks of exposure, for up to 40 weeks. The rate of new petitions was reduced to 11.4% for youth participating for three months, 7.4% at six months, 3.5% at nine months, and finally to 1.8% at 10 months.

As shown in Figure 18, a nonlinear estimate of the relationship between length of exposure and new court petitions produced a more accurate estimate (r = -.1279, df = 581, p = .002) than a linear estimate (r = -.092, p = .027). The largest reduction was for youth attending for more than 3 months (12-20 weeks). This nonlinear trend reveals a clear tipping point occurring after 3 months of participation with the effect leveling off beyond 5 months.

A multivariate analysis revealed a significant interaction related to offending following discharge between age on admission and existence of a prior arrest history. A risk variable was created to capture this interaction effect to include three categories: 1) low risk includes youth that were over 16 years old upon entry and all youth without prior arrests, 2) medium risk includes youth that were 16 years old with a prior arrest, and 3) high risk includes youth younger than 16 years old with a prior arrest. This risk variable was a strong predictor of new court petitions, with 8% of 641 low risk youth, 13% of 109 medium risk youth, and 19% of 136 high risk youth petitioned for a new offense within six months of discharge (ChiSq = 15.4, df = 2, p = .00045).

Among the risk categories, low risk black youth (19.4% of 62) were nearly three times as likely to be petitioned for a new offense as other low risk youth (6.9% of 579) (ChiSq = 11.6, df = 1, p = .00065). Race was unrelated to the probability of a new court petition among the medium risk (p = .08) and high risk youth (p = .54).

High risk youth were slightly more likely to receive behavioral discharges (41%) than medium risk (35%) or low risk (33%), although these differences were not significant (p = .18). Among normal discharges, risk category was strongly predictive of new petitions following discharge (low = 5%, medium = 15%, high = 18%, ChiSq = 21.1, df = 2, p = .00003), weakly predictive for probation violation petitions (5%, 7%, and 13% respectively, ChiSq = 6.2, df = 2, p = .0444), and strongly for all petitions (20%, 23%, and 30% respectively, ChiSq = 26.5, df = 2, p < .00000). Among youth receiving behavioral discharges, risk category was not predictive of new petitions (p = .19), probation violations (p = .92), or all petitions (p = .35).

A generalized least-squares multivariate analysis revealed that the effect of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools on the reduction of new court petitions (beta = -13.0%, t = 3.2, p = .0014 ) was still statistically significant after controlling for risk (beta = 17.2%, t = 4.3, p < .0000) and race (beta = 9.9%, t = 2.449,p = .0146) (change in R2 = .0460, F = 13.945, p = .000). Additionally, youth who participated in intensive supervision following discharge were less likely to have been petitioned for a new offense than other youth (beta = -8.6%, t = -2.1, p = .0344; change in R2 = .0073, F = 4.494, p = .034).

To isolate the independent effect of intensive supervision, a separate analysis was conducted among the 515 probation referred youth in the sample, 26% of whom participated in intensive supervision following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools. New petitions were filed for 1.5% (2 of 136) of those participating in intensive supervision following discharge, as compared to 13.3% (48 of 360) of youth that did not participate (ChiSq = 15.3, df = 1, p < .001). However, those that participated in intensive supervision following discharge were more likely to be petitioned for a probation violation (14.7% to 5.6% respectively, ChiSq = 11.1, df = 1, p < .001). While the combined new court petition and probation violation rate was somewhat lower among those participating in intensive supervision following discharge (16.2% vs. 18.9%), this difference was not significant (ChiSq = 0.5).

The effect of the CSF Buxmont schools on reducing new court petitions was independent of the other factors related to offending (Wilk’s Lambda RISK = .98, IPAFTER = .95, LRBLACK = .94, and E(RECID) = .96, all p < .001, with 61% correctly classified). [6] As shown in Figure 19, youth who participated for more than three months had lower new petition rates across all risk categories. There were also fewer new court petitions after three months for behavioral discharges and fewer petitions for a probation violation among those participating in intensive supervision following discharge.


The CSF Buxmont restorative milieu produced positive results in all three performance measures: program completion, youth attitudes, and offending following discharge.

The majority of youth referred to CSF Buxmont schools successfully completed the program with rates of 66% for probation referrals, 53% for school referrals, and 57% for referrals from children and youth. These rates are very high when compared to programs serving similar populations. The average completion rate for programs serving youth placed by Philadelphia Juvenile Court is estimated at 35% for community-based programs and 55% for non community-based programs (excluding boot camps). About 33% of nonadjudicated youth in Philadelphia’s delinquency prevention programs complete their program and 40% simply stopped attending. [7] Thus, the completion rates for CSF Buxmont schools are very respectable for a community-based program.

These high completion rates are especially significant because CSF Buxmont schools have a very open referral policy and accept youth with a wide range of offense seriousness and related risk factors. [8] Further, rather than screening out high need youth, CSF Buxmont’s restorative milieu tends to retain them. Youth with the lowest social values and self-esteem scores upon entry were retained longer than others. It was these youth that showed the greatest improvements. This is especially impressive in light of the fact that the proportion of youth receiving a behavioral discharge did not differ by age, gender, race, prior offending, or other risk factors.

Youth were more likely to have more positive social values and higher self-esteem at discharge than at program entry. These improvements were greater for youth completing the program than for youth receiving behavioral discharges and were positively related to the length of participation in CSF Buxmont schools. Youth completing the program had more positive social values and higher self-esteem scores upon discharge regardless of their scores at intake.

Offending during the six months following discharge was reduced by 58% for those youth who completed the program successfully with more than three months participation. Youth in all risk categories were less likely to offend following discharge, including those discharged unsuccessfully, if they participated in the program for more than three months. Finally, the greatest reduction in offending occurred among youth with the highest risk factors for offending.

These results present sufficient empirical evidence to conclude that the changes in attitudes and behavior of youth were the result of participating in CSF’s restorative milieu because:

1) There were significant improvements in both attitude and behavioral measures.

2) These improvements were positively related to the length of participation.

3) The relationships between improvement and participation remained statistically significant after accounting for relevant risk factors.

4) The reduction in offending following discharge after three months participation remained significant after controlling for relevant risk factors and reason for discharge.

Very few programs for delinquent and troubled youth can demonstrate similar positive outcomes. These results provide very strong empirical support that restorative practices are effective and that youth in a restorative milieu will become more positive in their social values, develop an improved self-image, and will be less likely to offend in the future.


1. For more information on CSF Buxmont schools go to:

2. Wachtel, T. and McCold, P. (2000). Restorative justice in everyday life. In J. Braithwaite and H. Strang (eds.), Restorative Justice in Civil Society. New York: Cambridge University Press; and P. McCold and T. Wachtel (2002). Restorative justice theory validation. In E. Weitekamp and H-J. Kerner (eds.), Restorative Justice: Theoretical Foundations. Devon UK: Willan Publishing.

3. Harris, P., Jones, P., Naiburg, J., and Washnock, J. (2000). Objectives and Outcomes of Community Service Foundation Programs: Results of the Evaluability Assessment Study. Philadelphia, PA: Crime and Justice Research Institute. “The programs of the Community Service Foundation share several common objectives and a mission that includes building among its clients greater self control, a belief in the capacity of people to change, an appreciation of the value of community, and life-styles in which sobriety is the norm. ... The values of believing in people’s capacity to change, the importance of community, the need for open confrontation and the establishment of a few important rules of behavior dominate the agency’s culture.” p.14. Also see Karp, D. and Breslin, B. (2001). Restorative justice in school communities. Youth & Society, 33(2), 249-272.

4. Jones, P., Harris, P. , Grubstein, L. and Fader, J. (2000). Juvenile Justice Trends and Projections. Program Development and Evaluation System. Philadelphia, PA: Crime and Justice Research Institute. Also see: Crime and Justice Research Institute. (1997). ProDES: The Program Development and Evaluation System Reference Packet (rev. 3/19/98). Philadelphia, PA: Author

5. Harris, et al., op. cit.

6. An independent analysis by Peter Jones, Criminal Justice Research Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 27,2002 confirmed a significant reduction in offending for youth receiving normal discharges. Jones identified several variables which, when combined, created a useful risk classification. He found a significant relationship between this a priori risk classification and offending (ChiSq = 31.6, df = 2, p < .001) with an additional effect for program stays of more than 3 months (ChiSq = 9.0, df = 1, p < .003). In a multivariate logistic regression, the odds ratios for time in program show a 65% reduction in the probability of offending when you move from program time of less than 3 months to 3+ months. Separate one-way ANOVA analysis shows that the effect of time in program is significant in one specific type of interaction - high risk youth. These general results were also confirmed by a discriminate analysis. Repeating the analysis on several community-based programs in the PRoDES database failed to reveal a similar effect for any of these programs.

7. Jones, et al., op. cit., and Jones, P., Harris, P., Poulin, M., and Moss, M. (2001). Delinquency Prevention Program Trends and Projections. Prevention Outcome Monitoring Information System (PROMIS). Philadelphia, PA: Crime and Justice Research Institute.

8. Harris, et al., op. cit.

By Lorenn Walker

This article originally appeared in the Federal Probation Journal, Volume 66, No. 1, June, 2002.

Author's Note

Lorenn Walker, J.D., M.P.H., is a health educator who designs violence prevention and resiliency development programs. She teaches administration of justice for the University of Hawaii Honolulu, and is a former trial lawyer who represented the State of Hawai‘i in civil claims and later defended indigent juveniles for law violations. She coordinates programs for the Hawai’i Friends of Civic and Law Related Education. Address correspondence to Lorenn Walker, P.O. Box 489, Waialua, Hawai’i, 96791. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


The Honolulu Police Department conducted an experimental diversion project for first time juvenile offenders in the City and County of Honolulu. Juveniles were diverted to restorative justice conferences instead of traditional diversion programs. Conferences are based on the assumption that crime damages relationships between people. Conferencing is a group reconciliation process that is best used when someone who has caused harm admits wrongdoing. Offenders and those most hurt by the wrongdoing, gather in a circle at conferences to discuss how they have been affected, and collectively decide how to repair the harm. This study analyzed the effects of conferencing on participant satisfaction, offender agreement compliance, and recidivism. Results show that victims were highly satisfied with the process and conferenced juveniles arrested for non-violent offenses did not escalate to arrests for violent crimes, while juveniles who participated in traditional programs had a significantly higher arrest rate for subsequent violent crimes.


The man was seated in a circle with seven other people. He bent down to the eye level of a 10-year-old boy sitting across from him and said, “I want you to know that my son will never touch you again.” The tense looking boy sighed, “o.k.” The boy’s mother and father, who were seated along side him, nodded their heads in agreement and relaxed their faces. The man’s words to the boy were reassurance that his 16-year-old son would not hurt him again. A month before, the 16-year-old held the 10-year-old upside down against his wishes. Because the older boy would not admit that he touched the boy, this conference turned out to be the least successful compared to 84 others held for first time juvenile offenders in Honolulu. Yet, even with its shortcomings, the conference provided the 10-year-old and his parents assurance that the offender would not touch him again.

Meeting the needs of victims, and providing them with the opportunity to be assured that they will not be hurt again by offenders, is not something traditional criminal justice systems provide. Conferencing attempts to meet victims’ needs, which in the end benefits not only the victims, but also offenders, and the community affected by crime. This study evaluates how effective conferencing was in meeting victims’ needs and its effects on recidivism in a recent Honolulu juvenile diversion program.

Historical Development of the Conferencing Process

Conferencing is a generic term for a group reconciliation process. Conference groups are facilitated by a neutral third party, and reach decisions by consensus. Western governments are using conferencing in criminal and child protective services cases (Hudson, Morris, Maxwell & Galaway, 1996). Conference models include family group conferencing (Maxwell & Morris, 1993), community conferencing (Cameron & Thorsborne, 1999), family group decision-making (Graber, Keys & White, 1996), and Real Justice conferences (O’Connell, Wachtel & Wachtel, 1999).

Conferences incorporate the conflict resolution practices of many indigenous people, including the Maoris of New Zealand, Hawaiians, North American Indians, and Africans (Shook, 1985; Schiff, 1998; Some, 1999; Zion, 1998; Walker, 2001). In 1989, New Zealand enacted legislation that required diversion of all juvenile offenders to family group conferences rather than traditional criminal justice processes (Maxwell & Morris, 1993). The New Zealand family group conference model is based on the Maori conflict resolution practice called whanau. Although the conference model that New Zealand developed was not meant to replicate the Maori process, “it seeks to incorporate many of the features apparent in whanau decision-making processes” (Maxwell & Morris, 1993).

Daly (2001) argues that conferences do not “reflect [and are not] based on indigenous justice practices”; however, New Zealand’s legislative history clearly shows that the Maori practice influenced that country’s mandated conferencing process. In 1986 New Zealand had rejected legislation and conferencing that was “monocultural” because it failed to include the “cultural identity of the tangata whenua (the people indigenous to or belonging in an area)” and did not “involve parents, family groups, whanau, hapu and iwi in developing solutions to the problem situations” (Hassall, 1996). After these two issues were addressed and included in the 1989 legislation, New Zealand enacted the law requiring that juveniles be diverted to family group conferences.

While conferencing did not develop in the West as a restorative justice process, but as a multi-disciplinary team approach in social work, it is a restorative process (Hassall, 1996; McCold, 1999). Restorative justice is an “alternative approach to criminal justice” which began in response to what its proponents viewed as the ineffectiveness of our current system (Pranis, 1996). Western justice is based primarily on retributive values where: “Crime is a violation of the state, defined by lawbreaking and guilt. Justice determines blame and administers pain in a contest between the offender and the state directed by systematic rules” (Zehr, 1990, p. 181). In contrast, restorative justice is based on values that hold “Crime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates obligations to make things right. Justice involves the victims, the offender, and the community in a search for solutions which promote repair, reconciliation, and reassurance” (Zehr, 1990, p. 181).

Emphasis on reconciliation should be an important part of our criminal justice system where in the United States most convictions come from guilty pleas. “More than 90 percent of all felony cases are disposed of by guilty pleas.” (Hall, 1996). The percent of juveniles who plead guilty or admit to offenses before court intervention is unknown, but it is assumed to be higher than the number of adults. During the six years that this author defended juveniles for law violations, all of them admitted responsibility for an offense.

Conferencing is a reconciliation process that addresses the needs of those most affected by crimes to a greater extent than traditional adversarial and autocratic processes can. The father of the 16-year-old offender addressed the need of the 10-year-old victim and his parents that the youngster be safe from the older boy in the future. While the offender’s father could not guarantee that his son would not harm the victim again, the father’s assurance was more than that offered by the criminal justice system. Even though the offender did not fully admit his wrongdoing, the conference benefited the victim. This could not be accomplished with our current justice processes, which do not provide the opportunity for victims and their loved ones to openly communicate with offenders. Without victim participation and the presence of the offender’s father at the conference, the victim’s needs could not be addressed.

The Real Justice Conferencing Model

This pilot project used the Real Justice conferencing model. In Real Justice conferences, participants sit in a circle without a table between them. Participants include victims, offenders, and representatives of the community most affected by crime. The community includes supporters of the victims and offenders (family and/or friends), and others who have been affected. For example, if a crime occurred on a school campus, school staff may be a part of the affected community and participate in a conference.

In some cases, victims do not want to meet with offenders. In these cases, victims may send a representative. Of the 102 juveniles who had conferences, 30 were for assaults and of those, 21 victims participated in conferences. In the remaining nine cases, representatives were from the victims’ families or the schools where many of the assaults occurred.

Conferences are facilitated by a neutral third party who does not participate in decision making. Real Justice facilitators attend a two-day training program. Thirty facilitators from Honolulu were trained, 12 of whom facilitated most of the conferences. Their backgrounds included housewife, sales clerk, college student, retired social worker, and contractor. They were paid $150.00 for each conference. Facilitators also convened and found a conference location convenient for the parties. The main scheduling priority was the victim’s convenience.

Real Justice conference facilitators follow a script developed by Terry O’Connell, a former Australian police officer. In 1990, O’Connell developed protocols from what he learned about New Zealand’s process. These protocols are followed in the Real Justice script (O’Connell, 1998). The script maintains a specific speaking order for conference participants. The facilitator begins a conference by reading a preamble, which creates an atmosphere of respect, and subtly establishes the ground rules. The offender speaks next, before the other participants, allowing him or her to take responsibility for the bad behavior immediately. Having the offender take responsibility at the beginning of the conference gives the victims some emotional relief by knowing denial is not an issue. The offender answers a round of questions that cause him or her to consider the consequences of the bad behavior.

Although some find the use of a script distasteful or stilted, conferences conducted with them have been thoroughly researched and evaluated. These studies have consistently found high rates of participant satisfaction, perceptions of fairness, and offender compliance with agreements (McCold & Wachtel, 1998; Moore & Forsythe, 1995; Umbriet & Fercello, 1998, 1999; O’Connell, Wachtel, Wachtel, 1999). Perhaps the most beneficial reason for using the script is it ensures that the participants will maintain control of the conference outcome, not the facilitator. Participant control during group process has been found to generate more cooperative relationships than autocratic group process (Lewin, 1997). The Real Justice script can prevent facilitators from becoming autocratic and defeating this consensus-based process.

Real Justice Conference Parts

There are four phases to a Real Justice conference. First, offenders admit what they did. They explain what they were thinking when they committed the offense, what they have thought about since then, and whom they think has been affected by their actions. Second, the other individuals in the group discuss how they have been affected by the offender’s behavior. Third, the group discusses and decides what can be done to repair the harm to make things right. Finally, a written agreement is decided upon by the group, which all participants sign. The conference ends with the participants eating together—a ceremonial breaking of bread—which allows for further reintegration, closure, and healing.

The Study

In 1999 the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) received a federal grant through the Hawai‘i State Office of Youth Services to divert first-time juvenile offenders to restorative conferences rather than traditional police diversion programs. The project was designed by the Hawai‘i Friends of Civic and Law Related Education (Hawai‘i Friends), a non-profit educational organization.


Between March and September 2000, 102 first-time juvenile offenders participated in conferences instead of traditional police diversion programs in the City and County of Honolulu. Eighty-five conferences were held for the 102 offenders (co-defendants participated together in single conferences).

Selection of Cases for Conferencing

The juveniles who participated in the 85 conferences were initially selected randomly, but after several weeks, shoplifting and runaway cases were selected out. Theft cases were avoided when a major retailer in Honolulu, frequently a juvenile shoplifting victim, refused to participate in conferences. Without the retailer’s participation, conferencing its theft cases could not be meaningful.

Runaway cases were also avoided after the program began because they often concern complicated family issues and not the resolution of a specific wrongdoing. Some juveniles run away because of abuse or neglect. The Real Justice conference model does not address these complex problems and is more effective for clear cases of wrongdoing.

A total of 160 juveniles were selected for conferences. Of those originally selected, 102 juveniles participated in a conference. Fifty-eight of the 160 juveniles originally selected for conferences did not participate. Twenty-five of those denied that they were responsible for the crime. Most of them were charged with violent offenses. The conferencing process is only used when the offender admits wrongdoing.

The next most common reason for not participating in a conference was that the juveniles’ families either never returned phone calls about the program or did not have telephones. In a few of the cases where there was no telephone, facilitators went to the homes and arranged a conference. The remaining 16 juveniles selected for conferences did not participate for a variety of reasons.

Nature of Conference Agreements

The majority of agreements, 73 percent or 61 out of 83 cases sought purely symbolic (i.e., apology) or a combination of symbolic and service reparations (i.e., apology with service including counseling for the offender), See Table 1. Fourteen cases, 17 percent, sought purely service reparations where juveniles agreed to repair damage or provide other community service. One juvenile agreed to service, symbolic, and monetary reparation. Only 7 percent of the offenders (8 juveniles out of the 100 whose agreements were reviewed) were required to pay monetary restitution. This study confirms what many believe: most victims want to know offenders are remorseful (Tutu, 1999).

Result: Participant Satisfaction

A total of 405 participants in 831 conferences were surveyed immediately following conferences for their satisfaction with the process. Although there may be concern that immediate surveys may have a “bubble effect,” where individuals are more inclined to report satisfaction than they would over time (McCold, 1998), one study shows that this does not apply to conferencing satisfaction survey results (Palk, Hayes & Prenzler, 1998).

Recent research of 35 fully-restorative, mostly-restorative and non-restorative conflict resolution programs throughout the world found a significantly higher satisfaction level with conferencing which is a fully-restorative process (McCold & Wachtel, 2000). The fully-restorative programs (conferencing and circles) had a 91.3 percent level of satisfaction while the mostly- restorative programs (victim offender mediation) had an 81.6 percent level of satisfaction. The non-restorative programs (boot camp and scared programs) had only a 55.6 percent level of participant satisfaction. The differences in the satisfaction levels reflect the differences in participation of stakeholders whose needs are addressed during the process. For example, in conferencing all the key stakeholders (i.e., victims, offenders and their communities of care) participate in the process that addresses their needs. In the mostly-restorative processes, victim offender mediation, usually only the victim and offender participate, their communities of care are not included in decision making nor are their needs addressed. Finally, in the non-restorative processes, the boot camp and scared straight programs, offenders reluctantly participate, and the victims and communities of care are excluded. McCold & Wachtel found that the more key stakeholders participating in the process, the higher the level of satisfaction with the process. Conferencing includes the main stakeholders, who are all encouraged to meaningfully participate, which the other programs lack.

Participant satisfaction with the conferencing process here was extremely high. Only seven of the 405 participants who completed surveys at the 83 conferences indicated that they did not believe the process served justice. Three of these participants were from the single conference that was incorrectly conducted after the 16-year-old denied full responsibility. The other four participants who did not believe the conference served justice were two offenders and two offenders’ supporters. The only victim who did not believe the process served justice was the 10-year-old whose case was incorrectly conferenced.

Conference participants’ satisfaction in Honolulu was compared with satisfaction levels of juvenile conferencing programs in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania during 1995 - 1997; four sites in Virginia during 1998 - 1999; Indianapolis, Indiana during 1997 - 2000; and Canberra, Australia during 1997 - 1999. Analysis of these programs shows Honolulu participants had a similar level of satisfaction with the conferencing process as the other projects (McCold, 1998; McCold, 1999; McGarrell, Olivares, Crawford, & Kroovand, 2000; Sherman, Strange, Barnes, Braithwaite, Inkpen, and The M.M., 1998 & 1999). Table 2 shows conference participant satisfaction rates.

Result: Offender Compliance with Agreements

All of the 85 conferences resulted in agreements. Approximately six months after the conferences, a telephone survey was conducted to determine whether offenders fulfilled the agreements. Victims were contacted in 47 of the cases (representing 61 juveniles). When the victim was not available, the victim’s supporters were contacted. Victim supporters were contacted in 14 of the cases (representing 15 juveniles) and when they were unavailable, the offender’s supporters were contacted. Offender’s supporters were used to determine whether the agreements were fulfilled in 15 cases (representing 17 juveniles), and as a last resort, in three cases offenders were relied on. One of these offenders said that he did not fulfill the agreement while the other two said they had.

The telephone survey showed that there was a high rate of offender compliance with the agreements. Out of the 102 juvenile offenders, at least 90 of them complied with the terms of the agreements as shown in Table 3. Even the 16-year old whose case was incorrectly conferenced complied with his agreement to “stay away from [the victim’s] home,” although the victim’s mother said the offender was seen near the victim’s street. Six juveniles did not fulfill their agreements. In six other cases, the outcome is unknown because no one was contacted.

Out of the 102 juvenile offenders, only eight were required to provide monetary restitution. Seven of these juveniles fulfilled the agreements. Only one offender did not pay the money back to the victim as agreed. In this case, he agreed to repay $250.00 damage to a candle display in a store. The store representative had no authority to lower the restitution amount, which its head out-of-state office had established without any negotiation possibility. Even with this juvenile’s failure to pay the restitution, the overall 87 percent restitution payment rate is significantly higher the current system’s.

First, there is no requirement of other Honolulu Police Department diversion programs that offenders pay any restitution. While courts order restitution, there is no data on the percent of collected court-ordered restitution in Honolulu’s juvenile cases. A long-time juvenile probation officer of the court believes, however, that less than 10 percent of all restitution orders for juveniles are completely paid.

Result: Recidivism Rates

Recidivism in this study looked at re-arrest rates six months after the conference. As shown in Table 4, the overall recidivism rate for the juveniles who had conferences was 28 percent six months following the last conference. The recidivism rate was only 11 percent in September 2000 when the last conference was held. This increase from 11 percent to 28 percent six months later confirms the likelihood of repeat offenses over time.

As shown in Table 5, a statistically significant recidivism difference was found for juveniles arrested for non-violent violations, i.e. theft, status offenses, and drugs. A matched group for time of offense, type of offense (non-violent) and gender was used to compare the difference between diversion programs. Although the overall recidivism rates between the two groups was not different, the juveniles who had conferences for non-violent offenses were less likely to escalate to violent crimes, compared to juveniles without conferences. In the group of 102 conferenced juveniles, 59 were arrested for non-violent offenses. Of those, only one was rearrested within the following six months for a violent crime. In the matched group of 82 juveniles, 75 of them were arrested for non-violent offenses. Of those, six were arrested for violent crimes within the following six months.

Keeping juveniles from escalating to violent crimes is important for reducing recidivism. The latest national study analyzing recidivism differences found that juveniles charged with assault are 44 percent more likely to repeat future offenses, while juveniles charged with theft are only 34 percent more likely to repeat offenses (Snyder, 1988).

The re-arrest rate for all youth in Honolulu was not significantly different from the conferenced juveniles. During the project, a total 3376 youth, excluding the 102 in this project, were arrested in Honolulu. After six months, 863 juveniles or 25 percent were rearrested. It is unknown what crimes the juveniles were arrested for.


Conferencing is a welcome juvenile justice process in Honolulu. As one assault victim’s parent said: “We were able to share our feelings and felt that the children understood how their actions affect others. I felt a healing when my thoughts and feelings were heard. I also felt good to show the children that we support them and care about their well being. We are very glad we could solve this problem in this manner.” The mother of the 10-year victim in the incorrectly conferenced case said, “Talking with the [offender’s] dad was very helpful.” She also added that the “conference would have been better if [the offender] would have admitted assaulting my son. He cannot get better until he can face that he assaulted my son. Until he admits it nothing can be repaired.” This statement illustrates why conferencing criminal cases should only be used when offenders accept full responsibility for their behavior. When offenders take responsibility, conferencing offers a process where healing can occur compared to traditional processes that focus primarily on retribution.

Second, while the Real Justice conference model relies on the offender admitting guilt, and may fail to address the often-complex problems that are relevant for status offenses, it is an effective intervention for many non-violent offenses. Conferenced non-violent offenders are less likely to escalate to more serious crimes six months later. A conferencing model needs to be developed to address relevant social issues for status offenders.

Finally, this research confirms what South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: "justice, restorative justice, is being served when efforts are being made to work for healing, for forgiving, and for reconciliation." Most victims of juvenile crime in Honolulu agree with Archbishop Tutu because most that attended conferences wanted an apology. As one victim said a "verbal apology was all I needed." And, as the 10-year-old victim’s father from the incorrectly held conference said, “Until the [offender] can be remorseful and admit what happened nothing can be accomplished!” When those most affected by crime participate in a process focused on addressing their needs, healing can begin, and restorative justice happens.


1. The case of the 16-year-old boy who held the 10-year-old upside down should not have been conferenced. Although the conference had value because the offender’s father assured the victim he would not be touched again, the case did not meet the criterion of the offender taking responsibility for his actions.


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By Brenda Morrison

Paper presented at the International Conference on Violence in Schools
and Public Policies, Palais de l'UNESCO, Paris, March 5-7, 2001.

Paper to be published by The European Observatory of Violence in Schools.
Addressing school violence has no easy answers. There have been journeys down many different avenues. We have swung between the libertarian ideal of rehabilitation for the damaged lives of perpetrators of violence and the more conservative punitive just deserts approach. Broadly speaking, the former values compassion, while the latter values accountability for individuals' actions. Both approaches aim to (1) achieve behavioural change for the individual; (2) keep our schools and communities safe. The evidence is mixed as to what works best. Is it possible to incorporate both compassion and accountability in the sanctions we impose when dealing with school violence? Advocates of restorative justice answer a tentative yes to this question. Restorative justice is about building communities of care around individuals while not condoning harmful behavior, in other words holding individuals accountable for their actions. This paper will explore recent developments in the building of theory and practice in the area of restorative justice, particularly in terms of addressing one form of school violence — school bullying. Addressing violence in schools is a pressing social issue. It needs to take center stage in developing the roots of a civil society (Morrison, forthcoming).

Violence in schools is being increasingly recognized as not only a social justice problem but also a public health problem (Mercy & O'Carroll, 1988). Violence casts a web of harm that captures the victims, the offenders and their communities. This web creates cycles of fear and distrust to all who befall its trap, perpetuating antisocial and self-critical cycles of behaviour. For offenders, longitudinal studies have shown that there is often a continuity of aggressive and dominating behaviors over time (Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz & Walder, 1984; McCord, 1991; Moffitt, 1993; Pepler & Rubin, 1991; Tremblay, McCord & Boileau, 1992). Victims carry with them the emotional scars of nagging self-criticism, suffering the long-term effects of perpetual victimhood (Callaghan & Joseph, 1995; Olweus, 1993; Slee, 1995). Both, in their own way, have been alienated from the communities in which they live. Both need to re-establish their ties with their community.

In the last decade or so we have become increasingly aware that bullying in schools is a serious, and insidious, form of violence that plagues the school system. Internationally, there are countless tragic stories to be told. There is also building empirical evidence of the consequences of its ill effects. Those who bully are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, as well as engage in subsequent delinquent and criminal behaviour (Gottfredson, Gottfredson & Hybl, 1993). Children who are bullied have higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, illness and suicidal ideation (Cox, 1995; Rigby, 1998; Rigby, 1999). For both, this web of fear becomes an obstacle to learning, self-development and effective citizenship. This fear breaks down the foundation of a civil society. Our concern must be at many levels, not only for the individuals themselves, and their families, but also society at large. For it is society that must support those who befall our justice and health care systems.

In Australia this evidence has been clearly recognised. The National Crime Prevention and the National Anti-Crime Strategy have identified school bullying as a risk factor associated with antisocial and criminal behaviour in their publication "Pathways to prevention: Developmental and early intervention approaches to crime in Australia" (National Crime Prevention, 1999). Early intervention has been advocated as the most appropriate way to break this cycle (Yoshikawa, 1994; Tremblay & Craig, 1995). Schools may be the most appropriate institution to target in addressing these issues, reducing antisocial and criminal behaviour patterns, while promoting productive citizenship and social responsibility.

School Bullying as a Target of Early Intervention Practice

Schools are an appropriate target because they capture such a large proportion of the population base. They not only capture children in their formative years, they also capture parents in their most influential years with their children. Schools also capture other members of a child's community of support, such as grandparents, friends, teachers, instructors and coaches. Schools, in essence, are a microcosm of society. Schools have the developmental potential to both stigmatize and exclude, as well as nurture and integrate individuals within society. The process of becoming a chronic offender and victim in society is often fed by the cycles of bullying and victimization that develop in the school system. Bullying, and victimization, within schools is an effective behavioural target as these behaviours signal the breakdown of social relationships. In such cases, the re-affirming of positive relationships is vital to individual and social well-being. This is reflected in the increasing awareness of researchers who couch deviant behaviour not in terms of individual pathology but in terms of social relationships that sustain individual lives (Ahmed et al., forthcoming; Koh, 1998; Emler & Reicher, 1995; Tutu, 1999).

The task is to re-build relationships in individual's lives at the first sign that the child is becoming disenfranchised from the relationships that sustain their well-being during their years at school. Working with children who bully and who are bullied in schools, particularly in the primary years, seems an effective place to commit our resources. Bullying is an important target as it is one of the most prevalent and insidious forms of domination over others. The ethos of bullying values dominance and control as a powerful form of influence over others. Restorative justice recognizes the ill effects of this form of influence, for influence, through domination, results in an alienated society. The practice of restorative justice does not value dominance but offers mutual respect and human dignity, while holding individuals' accountable. School bullying reflects wider social processes of domination as a form of influence. The study of school bullying offers us an opportunity to not only understand and address the phenomenon itself but also explore wider social issues.

What is Bullying?

The most frequently cited definition of bullying is the "repeated oppression, psychological or physical of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons" (Rigby, 1996, p.15; see also Farrington, 1993; Olweus, 1993). Three critical points are important in this definition:

Power: Children who bully acquire their power through various means: physical size and strength; status within a peer group; and recruitment within the peer group so as to exclude others.

Frequency: Bullying is not a random act; it is characterized by its repetitive nature. Because it is repetitive, the children who are bullied not only have to survive the humiliation of the attack itself but live in constant fear of its re-occurrence.

Intent to harm: While not always fully conscious to the child who bullies, causing physical and emotional harm is a deliberative act. It puts the child who is bullied in a position of oppression by the child who bullies.

It is important to note that bullying does not define all forms of conflict. If the power balance is perceived to be relatively equal, bullying is not in play. The bullying battleground is not a level playing field. Bullying is the assertion of power through aggression and domination. It happens in government, corporate boardrooms and in our schools. The form that bullying takes changes with life stage: from playgroup bullying and gang violence, to sexual and workplace harassment, to child abuse and domestic violence, as well as abuse of our elders and disabled (Pepler & Craig, 1997). The exertion of power can be both verbal and physical and it can take many forms: through the overt use of physical size, strength and numbers, to the use of status within a group. The form can be face-to-face or insidiously indirect, through rumours, exclusion, stalking and setting people up through others (Olweus, 1991). The repetitive nature of bullying sets up an ongoing relationship of dominance and submission. Both patterns can have a negative impact on the individuals and the communities concerned. Both can be understood through an analysis of how we manage our social relationships — individually and collectively.

How Pervasive is School Bullying?

Bullying in schools is a worldwide phenomenon. The data in Australia mirrors that of other countries, such as Canada (Bentley and Li, 1995; Pepler et al., 1997), Scandinavia (Olweus, 1991), Ireland (O'Moore, 1986) and England (Boulton and Underwood, 1992). Recent figures suggest that 50% of children have experienced being bullied at school at least once (Rigby, 1996). It has been estimated that for Australian students (between the age of 9 and 17) 1 student in 5 is bullied at least once a week (Rigby, 1996). That's 20% of Australian students being bullied each week. This amounts to 634, 320 students being bullied every week across Australia (based on 1997 census data). Verbal bullying was reported by both boys and girls as the most common form of bullying. Physical bullying was the form experienced least. For girls, a figure that stands out above the boys, is the occurrence of being excluded, on purpose.

While bullying comes and goes with age, there is a developmental pattern. At the ages of I I and 12, students are most likely to report bullying others (Pepler et al., 1997). In other words, the pattern changes once adolescence begins. Overall, reported bullying is higher in primary school than secondary school; however, the early years of secondary school are higher than the final year of primary school (Rigby, 1996).

If It's Everywhere, Is Bullying Just a Lesson in Life?

Bullying is widespread and always has been. There are numerous historical accounts, such as in the works of Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, 1837; Nicholas Nickleby, 1838) and Thomas Hughes (Tom Brown's School Days, 1857), as well as other historical tales (see Ross, 1996). Even today, the exploits of the orphaned boys in Oliver Twist are alive and well in the hearts and minds of contemporary society, for the same issues are still alive today, and continue to present themselves. More recently, James Moloney's (1998) award-winning Buzzard Breath and Brains tells the contemporary tale of dominance and submission, in other words bullying. The behaviour may be common through the ages, but this is as much a reflection on having institutions that tolerate (even condone) bullying, as on the nature of children. Bullying is not just "kids being kids." Bullying is the systematic abuse of power. This paper is based on the premise that bullying should never be condoned at any age or stage of life's journey.

The acceptance of bullying as a normal part of life signals that intimidation and violence are acceptable ways to resolve conflict and influence others. We may always have to deal with some form of bullying but we should never have to nurture our children in its arms. Children who tread the path of bully and victim can carry the emotional turmoil with them for a lifetime. Not only does it harm their own sense of personal well-being, it also affects those who care for these children.

To understand the problem of bullying and of being bullied, we must consider the developmental paths of children who dominate others and their victims. We must also examine the social systems in which bullying occurs, such as the family, peer groups, schools and other social institutions. We can not dismiss children who bully in schools as part of a behavioural cycle that they'll grow out of; likewise, we can not pass off children who are bullied as needing a lesson in learning to stand up for themselves. The evidence shows that we are not doing anyone a service by taking this stand.

What are the Developmental Paths of Bullies and Victims?

There isn't a single path that leads a child to bullying others or to being bullied. Generally, the path they tread reflects a pattern of poor social adjustment. A number of risk factors have been identified which generally fall into the categories of individual differences, family, and school. Wider social institutions also play a role (see Morrison, forthcoming). For example, one recent model found that school bullying was best predicted by family disharmony, perceived control of bullying in schools, school hassles, liking for schools, as well as the individual characteristics of impulsivity, empathy, self-esteem and internal locus of control (see Ahmed et al., forthcoming).

The purpose in this paper is not to review each of these factors but develop a theoretical framework through which to understand the problem and then use this framework to develop effective interventions. This was the approach advocated by the influential social scientist Kurt Lewin (1946), who said, "there is nothing as practical as a good theory."

Developing a Theoretical Framework

We will begin this endeavour with the finding that a lack of cooperation has been correlated with high involvement in school bullying (Rigby, Cox & Black, 1997). Two different theoretical perspectives may be helpful in explaining this finding: social identity (and self categorization) theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987) and reintegrative shaming theory (Braithwaite, 1989). The social identity perspective argues that social cooperation is a product of the salience (or activation) of a social identity. A social identity can be thought of as the psychological link between the self and the collective, in this case the school community. Through social identification, the school becomes a positive reference group for the student. When a student identifies with the school community, he or she will see themselves as interdependent with this community and behave cooperatively, upholding the school's rules and values (Morrison, 1999). Tyler (1998) has made a similar point. He argues that there are two inter-related aspects to self-worth: collective and individual. In the context of the school, the collective aspect is reflected in pride in being a member of a school community. The individual aspect is reflected in having respect within that community. As self-worth within a community increases in terms of pride and respect, social cooperation within that community also increases. In other words each of us strives for a sense of belongingness and significance. As well as meeting our individual needs, being a member of a positive reference group is also importance to us. We are social animals.

For bullies, the evidence indicates that the school community is not seen as a positive reference group. Indeed the school may even become a negative reference group as a child drifts towards a delinquent identity (see Koh, 1998). The building of a positive identity within the school is not a simple and straightforward means to an end. There may be some barriers to the process of identifying with the school community. Work by Eliza Ahmed and her colleagues (2000) suggests that one barrier that needs to be addressed is the affective barrier associated with shame. The shame associated with a harmful act acts as a barrier to us thinking of ourselves as a fully integrated member of a community. Indeed, recent findings have shown that shame-management has been found to be an important mediating variable in the understanding of bullying and victimization (Ahmed et al., forthcoming).

This work, inspired by reintegrative shaming theory (Braithwaite, 1989), suggests that both shaming and the emotion of shame are of considerable importance in regulating social behaviour. When a member of our community has done something that the community does not condone, the act can be dealt with in two ways: one can belittle both the person and the behaviour, or one can respect the person while not condoning the behaviour. The former is known as stigmatized shaming, a process that gives negative labels to both the person and the act; the latter is known as reintegrative shaming, a process that supports the person while not condoning the act. Within this framework, Ahmed has developed an integrated model of shame management and bullying. Building on many of the variables that have previously been found to influence bullying behaviour, such as family, school and individual difference variables, Ahmed shows how shame-management mediates many of these well acknowledged influences. In other words, failure to manage shame effectively is understood to be of importance in understanding and addressing school bullying.

Shame can be adaptive or maladaptive. Shame is adaptive when it activates an internal sanctioning mechanism that regulates the consistency and appropriateness of our social behaviour. The process can be understood as follows. Shame comes to the fore when we behave inappropriately in respect to an important community of support, for example our family or school. Through taking responsibility for the wrongdoing and making amends, the shame is acknowledged and discharged. Through this process, our feeling of connectedness to our community remains intact. Shame can be maladaptive when our internal sanctioning agent is functioning in such a way that does not allows us to discharge our shame over a wrongdoing. Why the sanctioning system is not operating at an optimal level can be determined through a number of processes. These have been discussed further by Eliza Ahmed elsewhere (Ahmed et al., forthcoming). Suffice to say for now that the shame has not been discharged and thus remains with the individual. This has consequences for our feeling of connectedness with others in our communities. This can be reflected in individuals' feelings of pride in their communities and respect within them, as supported by recent evidence by Morrison (forthcoming). Further, unacknowledged shame has the potential to be expressed as anger. The community that has evoked the shame can contribute further to its negative manifestation if the individual is subjected to further feelings of rejection from the community.

How was shame-management found to be different across the four categories of bullying behaviour (what we call bullying status): bullies, victims, bully/victims and non-bullies/non-victims)? Non-bullies/non-victims acknowledge shame and thus discharge it; victims acknowledge shame but are caught up in self-critical thinking, through their ongoing feelings of rejection from others. Their shame becomes persistent, despite acknowledgement of the wrongdoing. Bullies are less likely to acknowledge shame and the shame is transformed, often manifested as anger. Bully/victims capture the worst of these two troublesome groups. They feel the shame but, like bullies, fail to acknowledge it. As such, they are also more likely to displace shame. Again their shame can be transformed into anti-social behaviour, such as anger. Further, like victims, they are caught up in self-critical thoughts.

How does shame management relate to some of our earlier risk factors for bullying behaviour? The influence of the family can be taken as one example. One family factor which has been found to be significantly influential is how wrongdoing is dealt with in the family. Is the process punitive or reintegrative? Does the process stigmatize the child into a certain pattern of behaviour or does the process allow the child to make amends and carry on as a respected member of the family? The evidence is consistent with the theory we have outlined: parents of children who bullied others report using stigmatized shaming more often as a child-rearing practice (Ahmed, et al., forthcoming).

In summary, both social identity theory and reintegrative shaming theory emphasize the importance of social relationships. This is consistent with other theorists, who stress the importance of social bonds. Lewis (1981, 1983) argues that connection with others is a primary motive in human behaviour. The maintenance of bonds is reciprocally related to and involves emotions: emotions are a means of cohesion. Nathanson (1992) has also argued that shame is the central social regulator that governs our social relations with others. Shame, as such, is intimately connected with solidarity (ingroup cooperation) and alienation (outgroup competition). Humans are inherently social animals; lapses in important social bonds affect us as individuals. Threatened or damaged bonds create an environment for shame. Chronic unacknowledged shame arises from and generates failure of social connectedness (Retzinger, 1991). Shame can be conceptualized as a thermostat; if it fails to function informatively about the state of our social relationships, regulation of relationships becomes impossible. Thus, shame is an important signal about the state of our social relationships. Shame management involves the search for coherence of identity. Acknowledgment of shame can lead to greater integrity of the self and our social world; shame avoidance can lead to social alienation and conflict with the self and our social world.

Restorative Justice and School Bullying: The Philosophy of the Practice

A central tenet that has developed in this chapter is the importance of social relationships to individual and social well-being. This is the central tenet of the practice of restorative justice, which at its heart holds that the nature of our social relationships is central to the nature of our individual lives. Reintegrative shaming theory upholds the practice of restorative justice. Based on this theory, Braithwaite (1989) has argued that there are two main features inherent to restorative processes. First, to achieve successful reintegration the process must involve the presence and participation of a community of support for the offender and the victim. This community would be made up of the people who respect and care most about these two (or more) people. Second, the process of shaming requires a confrontation over the wrongdoing between the victim and offender within this community of support (see Braithwaite, 1989, 1998). The theory argues that the process is restorative in that the intervention (1) makes it clear to the offender that their behaviour is not condoned within the community; (2) is respectful and supportive of the individual while not condoning the behaviour. The first point constitutes the shaming aspect of the intervention while the second point provides the basis by which the shaming process is of a reintegrative (rather than a stigmatizing) nature.

Restorative justice processes offer us an opportunity to get off the seesaw between punitive and moralistic approaches to addressing school bullying. Advocates of punitive approaches call for responsibility and accountability for behavior. Advocates of the libertarian approaches call for further care and support of the person. A restorative process involves both these components, in that: (1) a message is communicated to the offender that the behaviour is not condoned by a community; (2) the offender is offered respect, support and forgiveness by the community. In other words, efforts are made to separate the act (or behaviour) from the person.

In line with this ethos, we prefer to separate the act from the person and use the terms students who bully or students who are bullied. Commonly, literature on bullying uses the terms bullies and victims when referring to children involved in bullying. As many children may at some point take on either role, and because the terms bullies and victims label the children rather than the behaviour, these terms have not been adopted in our work on restorative justice. An important tenet of restorative justice is the ability to conceptually separate the behaviour from the person. This is a philosophical point rather than a semantic preference. It is our hope that through approaching the problem in this way, children will not be polarized into these two positions and become stigmatized as problem kids with associated behavioural problems. At the same time we maintain that bullying, and other forms of violence, has no place in the school environment.

The aim of restorative programs is to reintegrate those affected by wrongdoing back into the community, to identify with the community, and become a cooperative member of that community, upholding its laws and values. A community accountability conference, which brings together victims, offenders and their respective communities of care, is one such intervention program. As Braithwaite states (1998), "Restorative justice conferences may prevent crime by facilitating a drift back to law-supportive identities from law-neutralizing ones" (p. 24). Community accountability conferencing has been used well in schools, particularly in addressing bullying (see Cameron & Thorsborne, forthcoming; Wachtel & McCold, forthcoming). Further, restorative justice conferences work best when supported by a broader institutional culture that mirrors the values of restorative justice (see O'Connell & Ritchie, forthcoming). As well as reactive interventions, such as community accountability conferencing, pro-active restorative interventions are also important. Pro-active programs, often called primary interventions in that they target the entire community, develop the understanding and practice of restorative processes for all students. One such program, piloted in Australia, is the Responsible Citizenship Program (RCP). This program has two explicit aims: (1) to build a community of care based on respect, consideration and participation; (2) develop student's conflict resolution skills based on principles of restorative justice.

Goleman's (1995) research on Emotional IQ provides support for the aspirations of this program. He argues that children need lessons in learning about and coping with a repertoire of emotions, particularly the emotions involved in conflicts, as these are the ones that are often masked. Becoming aware of our emotions, acknowledging them, speaking about and acting on them are healthy skills to develop. Through building this awareness, we can often front-end the escalation of conflict and reduce violence in our schools. Goleman (1995) comments:

… over the last decade or so 'wars' have been proclaimed, in turn, on teen pregnancy, dropping out, drugs, and most recently violence. The trouble with such campaigns, though, is that they come too late, after the targeted problem has reached epidemic proportions and taken firm root in the lives of the young. They are crisis interventions, the equivalent of solving a health problem by sending an ambulance to the rescue rather than giving an inoculation that would ward off the disease in the first place. Instead of more 'wars,' what we need to follow is the logic of prevention, offering our children the skills for facing life that will increase their chances of avoiding any and all these fates. (p. 256)

How do we as concerned parents, educators, researchers, policy makers and citizens increase our capacity to enable our children to manage their shame over wrongdoing and conflict more effectively? Is it possible to enable a child to increase their capacity to manage shame more effectively? Preliminary results of a pre/post self report evaluation of the Responsible Citizenship Program, using the Life at School Survey (Morrison, 2000), showed that students' use of a number of adaptive shame-management strategies increased while the use of some maladaptive shame-management strategies decreased. While this result is promising, it is only a start. As with a large number of school-based intervention programs, much more extensive and systematic evaluation work needs to be done. As a start, we are beginning to survey a number of restorative justice initiatives in Canada and Australia, using the Life at School Survey (Morrison, 2000).

The practice of restorative justice is a vehicle that offers hope to those affected by violent and aggressive acts. Hope for a different tomorrow is what brings participants together to talk through how these acts have affected them. It is why people came forward to tell their stories of atrocious acts during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu shows that reconciliation after conflict is not easy but is the only way forward — whether at the political or personal level — and he offers inspirational advice on how we might make this principle work in a better, more humane future.

Desmond Tutu (1999) tells us of ubuntu — the essence of being human. That we "live in a delicate network of interdependence. … That a person is a person through other people. … It says 'I am human because I belong.' I participate, I share." (p.35). We must cultivate a culture of hope for our children, for ourselves. We must ensure that children, from an early age, are educated in the skills of nurturing productive relationships and working through conflict. This is always difficult but we have ignored the importance of teaching children about conflict, its purpose and benefits, as well as skills in productive conflict resolution, for too long. Children will only benefit from education on the values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that enable them to resolve any dispute peacefully and in the spirit of respect for human dignity, tolerance and non-discrimination — the essence of democratic citizenship.

UNESCO has recognized this in their declaration and programme of action on a Culture of Peace. They have proclaimed the period 2001-2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the children of the world. Schools have an important agenda to take up here. Let us develop praxis based on the institutionalization of hope. Let's take a leaf from Desmond Tutu's book and cultivate the art of building relationships, and resolving conflicts productively, in our schools. Restorative justice offers us new insights, both in theory and practice, in taking a fresh look at addressing violence in schools.


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By Laura Mirsky

On August 8-10, 2002, 300-plus people from all parts of the globe came together to change the world. That was my impression of the Third International IIRP (International Institute for Restorative Practices) Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

As a reporter for the Delaware Valley News, which covers Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Hunterdon County, New Jersey, I wrote an article in the spring of 2002 about a documentary film being shot about the IIRP’s restorative practices techniques, in use in a Bucks County school district. IIRP president Ted Wachtel saw the article and asked me to visit one of IIRP’s Community Service Foundation (CSF) schools in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where they also utilize restorative practices to record my impressions. Wachtel then asked me to cover the IIRP’s Minneapolis conference. In three days, I attended many conference sessions, interviewed numerous individuals for videotape and spoke to myriad participants. Folks had journeyed from as far away as Australia and New Zealand and hailed from places such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, the Antilles, the Philippines, the Middle East, Hong Kong, the Yukon and other parts of Canada and many of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. Also striking was the number of different Native American and First Nation peoples represented from the Nishnawbe-Aski, Ashinabe, Secwepemc, Qagan Tayagungin, Esketemc, Mille Lacs Ojibwe, Wet’suwet’en, Laksilyu, Navajo Mistawasis Cree, Mohawk and Tyendinaga, as well as other nations, clans and territories.

As the intense and busy days of the convention wore on, I was repeatedly struck by the selfless dedication of the group that had gathered. There was Bernadette Boschert, a guidance counselor from Tucson, Arizona who had paid her own way and admission to the conference after hearing about restorative practices on public radio and was determined to learn how to implement them in her school. There were Ivan Iserhoff, Lee-Ann Landry and Betty and Elbert Achneepineskum of Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation, First Nation people who had driven all the way from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada to share their experiences with restorative justice in their community and learn what others were doing. From police, to teachers, to social workers, to mediators, to psychologists, to psychiatrists, to film producers, to authors, to clergy, to counselors, to attorneys, to administrators, all had come to change the world.

“Dreaming of a New Reality” was the name of the conference and indeed, the participants all seemed to share the dream of making the world a place where conflict can be resolved in non-violent, non-punitive, productive ways. But most of these dreamers did not seem to have their heads in the clouds. On the contrary, those at the conference working with restorative programs, whether under the name restorative practices, restorative justice, the Family Unity Meeting or family group conferencing, all seemed to be implementing very specific techniques and obtaining positive, substantiated results. These dreamers were employing conscious, purposeful systems to make a difference in people’s lives and had come to the conference to share their knowledge and achievements and to find encouragement, support and advice from others doing similar work.

A highly multi-cultural event, the conference was nevertheless remarkably united in its purpose. From the very beginning, numerous excited and focused conversations could be heard going on in every corner about restorative practices. At breakfast on day one, I sat next to Ingrid Cumberlidge of Alaska, a Native American former tribal judge and member of the Qagan Tayagungin Nation who had come to learn more about restorative practices to help the youth in her area, in the Aleutian Islands, “before they get involved with the State,” as she put it. Many of the kids she dealt with didn’t get services until they ‘’hit the felony level,’’ she said, and she was determined to change that situation.

To my left at the table was Bruce Barnes, a professor of conflict resolution and mediation negotiations in Honolulu, Hawaii. He said that he had been able to integrate a lot of Hawaiian cultural traditions in his work. It hit me then that I was seated between someone from Hawaii and someone from Alaska — a tidy coincidence, but also indicative of the conference’s wide reach.

Also at the table was Kathy Levine, a teacher from what she called the “ghetto area” of Duluth, Minnesota. Hers was a low-income “magnet school” for languages, she said, a place where Spanish and Ojibwa were taught to accommodate a multi-cultural population. Levine said that she had started restorative circles at the school two years ago and that the Native American parents were very taken with it. “They come with their grandmothers,” she said. Rounding out the table was Theresa Ozuna from Arizona, who said she did community dialogue circles and mediation. Kids really want to talk about a lot of issues, she said — molestation, rape — its adults who have the problem. She said that a common remark heard from the youth she worked with was, “I can’t believe you’re an adult, because you actually want to know what I think.”

The official proceedings of the conference began with welcoming remarks from Ted Wachtel. “All of us are dreamers,” he said. “We see the possibility of a future different from the present.” But, he said, it’s lonely to be a dreamer; that’s why these gatherings are important. Wachtel gave a history and overview both of the IIRP and circle conferencing and ended by saying that he hoped the conference would provide “a forum for anyone who shares the dream of a new reality based on restorative practices.”

Wachtel’s wife, Susan, IIRP’s vice president, introduced Vidia Negrea, a psychologist who is helping to open a Community Service Foundation school in Hungary. With an appealing soft-spoken manner and self-effacing humor, Negrea talked about her struggles as a social worker in Romania and Hungary and her internship at a Community Service Foundation school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. One of the most striking things she communicated was the way in which she learned to incorporate restorative practices into her own work.

When Negrea became frustrated and overwhelmed by a particularly troubled young man at the school, she sought assistance from fellow staff members, thinking she was failing in her duties. It was a major revelation for her that asking for help from others, especially from the troubled boy himself, was not only “allowed”, but an essential part of the theory and practice of restorative practices. When Negrea let the boy know how his actions were affecting her and asked him to take responsibility for them, his behavior began to change for the better. Through this experience, Negrea discovered, first hand, the cornerstone of restorative practices — the thing that drives it and makes it work — doing things not for or to people — but with them. In sharing her personal immediate experiences, Negrea communicated an essential message to the conference.

There followed a vintage slide-show produced by Ted Wachtel in 1977 for a conference, “Social Work for a Change,” when the Community Service Foundation was just being incorporated. He had been looking for funds and kids at the time, running out of money and feeling hopeless, said Wachtel as he introduced the show. With slides ranging from panoramic shots of the American West to those of troubled youth and bombed-out urban areas, accompanied by inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Buckminster Fuller and Lao Tsu and songs from 25 years ago, the show was a moving and nostalgic trip back to a more innocent time remembered by the baby boomers attending the conference.

The slide show’s theme was American, but universal as well, as I realized when I heard two Swedish women next to me — who had been speaking to each other in their own language — softly singing along to Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’ “ and The Beatles’ “Let it Be”.

An unexpected shock of emotion swept the room when 1970’s photos of the World Trade Center came up on the screen, bringing us smack up against the present and reminding the group of the importance of the work to be done to restore real communication in the world.

The group broke up to go to the first sessions, people finding it hard to choose between the many fascinating alternatives on offer. I sat in a presentation by Terry O’Connell, the Australian ex-cop who pioneered the scripted restorative conference model that is influencing restorative practices in many countries around the world.

O’Connell used anecdotes and sought answers from the group to explore the difference between healthy and toxic systems and how to function effectively within them. “Don’t imagine that we’re going to change the system,” he said, adding, “The essence of what we’re on about is relationships.” He said it was paramount to “be very clear about what the hell’s happening — what the process is.” People need to feel that they’re being heard, taken seriously and understood, he said, and then they need to get feedback and accept responsibility for their actions. Their faith in the system can thereby be renewed. “We’re doing that intuitively,” said one audience member. “That’s the problem,” responded O’Connell and explained that “people need to do things deliberately, not intuitively.”

The first plenary speaker on Day Two was Chief Judge Heino Lilles, a territorial court judge in the Yukon since 1987. Exuding wit and power, Lilles talked about his experiences implementing restorative justice. Circle sentencing, he said — using a golf club metaphor — was “an oversized titanium driver.” Lilles took pains to point out that circle sentencing was not a slap on the wrist. He said that offenders had told him, “If I’d known how tough this is, I would have gone to jail.”

Lilles said that he did not use circle sentencing as a form of diversion. On the contrary, he said, in his court circle sentencing results in criminal sentences, replacing the formal sentencing hearing. But, while sometimes jail is the sentence, the reasons for jail time are quite different; it’s used almost exclusively in serious cases.

In Lilles’s courtroom, the victim does not have veto power over the decision to hold a circle because the community is also a victim. The restorative justice notion of crime as an injury to both the victim and the community is consistent with the culture of indigenous people.

Circles take on a life of their own, said Lilles. He used the analogy of dog sledding, which he has done himself. It’s easy — the dogs just go — until there’s a problem. You might get dumped off the sled or the dogs might fight and kill each other. “Any idiot, including a judge, can chair a circle when things are going well,” he said. But when things go wrong, that’s when an experienced facilitator can avert disaster.

Lilles said that he walks into a circle fully gowned in his judge’s robes. He removes them when he sits in the circle. This sends the message: “What I have to say is no more important than anyone else.” Introductions follow, then the professionals read the facts of the case or the offender is asked to relate them. The defense attorney reads some remarks and then “shuts up.” In a circle, said Lilles, the lawyers speak to the people in the circle, not to the judge. An eagle feather or some other “talking piece” is passed around the circle. Only the person holding it can speak.

Sometimes it takes a long time for a young male offender to speak, said Lilles, . There’s a lot of silence. But he always speaks. Sometimes emotions are so strong that the victim discloses things he or she has never before repeated. Many offenders, said Lilles, change their lifestyle and become restorative justice leaders in the community. Most victims, he said, don’t want to further punish offenders but want answers to questions.

Everything in a circle conference is recorded and transcribed and all legal safeguards apply, said Lilles. At first, he said, every circle had to be approved by the Crown. But, said Lilles, “they finally left us alone.” In the Yukon, judges have led the movement for restorative justice. Lilles called restorative justice “a wonderful tool for bridging cultures” because it demands a partnership between the community and the formal justice system. Some government agencies are very reluctant to participate in restorative justice. Solidifying these partnerships, said Lilles, will be the major challenge of the next few years.

Day Two’s second plenary speaker was Liz Quinnett, Manager of Training and Development for Health and Human Services in San Diego County, California. An extensive interview with Quinnett is covered below.

Day Three’s first plenary speaker was Tim Newell, a retired British prison governor who spent 37 years in the British prison system and successfully introduced restorative justice programs at Grendon and Spring Hill prisons. “Why work in prisons?” Newell asked. His answer: because that’s where the need is greatest. The victims, said Newell, are most seriously affected and the offenders are the most damaging and damaged. In England, 85–90 percent of young offenders and 55-60 percent of adults are convicted again within two years of their prison release. Prison costs £35,000 per year per person and 72,000 people are imprisoned every week.

The advantage of working in prisons is that people are contained and you can work within boundaries. In Grendon, the normal culture of fear in prisons is removed. There is a long list of prisoners waiting to get into Grendon, said Newell, because it’s a place they can actually achieve something for themselves and move on.

Restorative justice is very hard work in a prison, said Newell. “Why is it so hard to move the mainstream of the criminal justice system from doing the things we know don’t work to doing the things we do?” he asked. The resistance, he said, comes from the need of organizations to preserve their purpose.

Newell said that the conference had taken a big risk in asking him to speak because he was a Quaker. They could have gotten an hour of silence, he joked. On a serious note, Newell asked that there be no applause at the end of his speech. Then, with great eloquence, he summed up the essence of restorative justice with this quote, from the novelist Ian McEwen, about the horrors of September 11: “If the hijackers had been able to imagine themselves into the thoughts and feelings of the passengers, they would have been unable to proceed. It is hard to be cruel once you permit yourself to enter the mind of your victim. Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion and it is the beginning of morality.”

The third day’s second plenary speakers were two high school principals from southeastern Pennsylvania — David Piperato from Palisades High School and Joseph Roy from Springfield Township High School. Public schools, they said, are in a key position to bring people together at a time when things like vouchers and charter schools are making them increasingly irrelevant. Public school change is essential now, they said, because of increased competition in educational choices, more stringent educational standards, pressure put on schools by businesses to train students in problem solving and other skills, as well as the rise in violence and drug and alcohol related problems.

But, said Roy and Piperato, while you can make changes in block scheduling, heterogeneous grouping and cooperative learning, these programs will fail without a change in the cultural foundation of the school. They defined cultural change as a change in people’s shared philosophies, ideologies, values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes and norms. And, they added, you can’t separate the acquisition of knowledge from relationships. Positive relationships, they said, lead to increased safety and better academic performance.

When Roy was assistant principal at a high school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania he suspended hundreds of students for thousands of days. He said the “dirty little secret” in public education was that the traditional system doesn’t work. What he learned was that with the kids with whom he made a connection, things started to change.

Roy and Piperato started the Academy, an alternative school, at Palisades High — a school within a school for students who were alienated. The teachers “busted their butts” in planning and implementing this project , said Roy. But student misbehavior was disrupting the innovative effort and “the teachers were ready to mutiny.” Along came Ted and Susan Wachtel and the IIRP’s SaferSanerSchools program. First the teachers in the Academy and eventually teachers throughout the high school learned to use restorative practices.

Piperato said that Palisades High had changed by “focusing on a new set of the three R’s: relationships, respect and responsibility.” Everybody, from students to teachers to administrators, is responsible for the success of the school. When someone comes to Piperato with a complaint his response is, “What are you going to do about it?” He stressed that restorative practices weren’t about excuse making, but about accountability and accepting consequences. Palisades High, said Piperato, had seen a dramatic shift since implementing the changes with restorative practices. Last year the school won a National Blue Ribbon Award.

The videotaped interviews I did made it clear to me that effective and concrete restorative methods are spreading throughout the world. All the interviewees were impressive in the passion they had for their work and in the scope of their accomplishments.

Paul Schnell, who is using restorative practices in his job with the St. Paul, Minnesota Police Department, has been a police officer for ten years. Schnell said that when he started out as a new cop, working in a school, he thought that, with his shiny new gun, badge and handcuffs, he would have an impact. But he didn’t. He found himself arresting kids, sometimes the same ones, over and over again. Then he had the opportunity to do restorative practices training with Terry O’Connell and Ted Wachtel and began to implement what he had learned. Some eight years later, he has facilitated hundreds of conferences in the neighborhood where he works and trained other officers in restorative practices techniques.

Schnell talked of using restorative language in every day police work. In the case of theft, for instance, when a cop asks questions beyond the normal “who, what, when and where” it can make an enormous difference. A simple question: “Tell me what this has been like for you?” or “What’s been the hardest thing about this experience for you?” helps the person who’s been through something as seemingly trivial as the theft of a set of golf clubs from their car deal with their feelings of loss and their concerns about safety.

Schnell spoke about a situation where one family in a community — two children in particular — was causing a great deal of trouble. They were damaging property, breaking windows and making noise. The cops were called in 50 or 60 times. They lectured the kids and the parents and still the problems remained. Then Schnell facilitated a conference attended by the family and many of their neighbors. The discussion, he said, was about what they wanted their neighborhood to be like. There was “heavy emotion”; the neighbors were quite upset. The difference was that the “trouble-makers” had been invited to be a part of the discussion for the first time. The outcome was extraordinary, said Schnell. In the following six months, police calls to the neighborhood all but ceased. The group, including the “trouble-makers”, had decided what they wanted their neighborhood to be like and how they were going to treat one another. Because it had been their decision, they had stuck by it.

Schnell also told the story of a man in prison for sexually assaulting a young girl. The man was in prison but the fallout from the crime remained. The man’s family was being targeted for abuse by the entire neighborhood. Schnell facilitated a conference with the parents of the victim, and the offender and his ex-wife. “It was excruciating,’’ said Schnell, “but it was also a phenomenal experience.” He was honored to be a part of the painful emotions exchanged in the conference. In the wake of the conference, the victimization of the offender’s family stopped immediately.

Restorative practices are spreading throughout Schnell’s department. His dream of the future includes formally applying restorative practices to the ways in which members of his department relate to one another as police officers, and in addressing such issues as racial profiling.

Matt Casey uses restorative practices at Family Support Services, a community agency in Goulbourne, New South Wales, Australia. He uses the scripted questions from the restorative conference in cases of domestic violence and other family problems. The questions – “‘What did you think about when this was happening? What have you thought about since? Who else has been affected by this and how? What’s the hardest thing about this for you?” — are the framework for engaging clients in an affective manner to allow them to express their emotions. He can then provide them with support to help them to “own their behavior unconditionally” and look at what’s necessary to change it. He always explains the theories behind what he’s doing to his clients, so that they understand why things are happening and it’s “not just magic” for them.

What’s amazing about the answers to the scripted questions, said Casey, is that often they’re not about the issue at hand, but much broader — about what they thought their life was going to be like. Clients can then begin to address what they can do to make their lives different and contemplate such questions as: “Where do I see myself in five years?”

It’s important, said Casey, that people not be allowed to “grab victim status.” That implies helplessness, meaning that they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. Men, especially non-custodial fathers, tend to see themselves as victims, thinking that everyone is making demands of them.

Casey talked about the importance of separating judgement of people’s behavior from judgement about people themselves. He cited the case of a very angry man, a former biker, amphetamine abuser and alcoholic who had violently mistreated his wife and kids. She had left him and taken the kids. He came to Casey’s organization for help in obtaining unsupervised access with his kids.

Casey got the man to tell his story about his drug and alcohol abuse and violence. “Your behavior was outrageous, dreadful,” Casey told him, ‘I’d have left you too.” The man was furious, saying, “You can’t tell me that!” Then Casey told the man, “You’re alright; your behavior is outrageous,” making the distinction between the man and his behavior.

The man came back a week later and told Casey, “Meeting you was like being hit on the head with a pool cue.” Nobody had ever told him that his behavior was outrageous, but that he himself was alright. Casey and the man spent a lot of time talking. The man now attends Alcoholics Anonymous, has a job, does volunteer work and has unsupervised visits with his children. People need to be able to express emotion freely, said Casey, adding, “The minute we provided that chance a whole range of changes came in.”

Casey is excited about a new direction his organization is taking: working with people with disabilities and their families. In many cases, a crisis gets dealt with but behavior is never challenged. Often people with disabilities — such as developmental and mental problems — are aware of their differences and feel frustrated and ashamed because of them. But, he said, the same principles apply to people with disabilities as with anyone else and the same types of restorative questions can be used, to great effect.

Liz Quinnett, Manager of Training and Development for Health and Human Services in San Diego County, California developed the Family Unity Meeting in San Diego. Quinnett took us through the family meeting process as practiced in her unit of Child Welfare Services.

First is careful pre-meeting preparation. Parents have a chance to tell their stories and are told about the format and what to expect. Goals for the meeting are determined. Meeting participants include extended family and support systems, plus a facilitator and court-mandated social worker. It’s very important that the facilitator’s role is explained as neutral — just there to help keep the meeting on track to achieve the family’s goals.

The meeting begins with introductions of everyone present. This models respect and empowerment, said Quinnett, adding, “You can often tell by someone’s body language how they’ve been treated by the system and how their family has given up on them.” Parents are asked for permission to talk about their family issues. The family establishes its own ground rules for safety. Anger is okay, but safety must be maintained. Ground rules that come from the group are more likely to be followed. A lot of emotion comes up, said Quinnett, because people aren’t used to describing how they feel. A time-out might be called if things get too hot.

An essential phase of the meeting is the time used to describe the strengths of the parents, the family and the children. “Not many of us have the opportunity to sit in the bosom of our family and have them say what they think are our strengths,” said Quinnett. Many perpetrators have a very clear idea of what’s wrong with them, she said, and it’s very empowering for them to hear their strengths.

A break follows during which all participants share food together. This is very important, said Quinnett, because it breaks down the hierarchy in the room between the family and the professionals, emphasizing that everyone there is the same and that all are there together out of concern for the children. Furthermore, she said, “food soothes the savage beast.”

Then comes the time when people bring up painful history and current concerns. The latter are put into major categories. What follows is “Family Alone Time,” during which all professionals — social workers, facilitators, counselors, etc. — leave the room and the family develops its own plan for how to “put a safety net around the children.” Family Alone Time is very significant and powerful to families, said Quinnett. They’ve never been given that kind of trust before and they almost can’t believe it. She said that a critical part of the process was trusting that families can come up with their own solutions — that the social worker doesn’t have to be the magician. Her unit had found that people came up with more creative ideas without them. The entire group then reconvenes and the professionals make sure that court orders are being honored in any plan the family has devised. Then everyone gets to say how the meeting has been for them.

Quinnett said that she has never worked in a program that has had such positive outcomes. “I never fail to be amazed at what families can come up with,” she said. Her hope is that the sort of work done by the Family Unity Meeting can be part of every child welfare system some day. If more social workers, supervisors and managers could experience a meeting, she said, it would change their practice and improve the quality of their working life and probably the quality of their personal life, as well. “It would cheer them up considerably to see that there’s so much hope,” said Quinnett, adding, “Child abuse is not the end. To use a cliche: like any crisis, it’s also an opportunity.”

Gena Gerard is manager of the Minneapolis CCNP (Central City Neighborhoods Partnership) Restorative Justice Program. The program deals with livability and quality of life offenses such as chronic prostitution, drug dealing and use, public drinking and panhandling.

Gerard first became involved with restorative justice in 1996, when she researched the concept as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. In 1997 she helped institute a pilot program, in partnership with the Minneapolis criminal justice system, which arranged for non-violent adult offenders to consider community conferencing as an option to resolve crimes.

Gerard said that space was created for community members and offenders to sit down and talk about the impact their behavior was having on neighborhoods, including “real people, businesses, churches, and children.” It gives people in the community a chance to do something more than call 911 or volunteer for a block patrol, said Gerard. Instead, in coming face-to-face with offenders, they can have a proactive role in the process and help repair the harm done to the community. Trained facilitators help with the conferences, during which plans are devised that are documented, signed and monitored. Offenders almost always choose to come back to the community to serve the needy, participate in community activities, apologize to those they have harmed, and make donations.

Gerard told a story about a cab driver that had been caught soliciting prostitution. He chose a restorative justice conference because he wanted to talk to someone; in court, no one had time to hear his story. The conference was very enlightening for him. As with most offenders, he had no idea who his crime had affected and when he heard from the community, he felt badly. Women in the neighborhood were being approached on the street and were afraid to walk to and from their homes. There was associated noise, traffic and littering. After the conference, he agreed to bring meals in his cab to homebound HIV patients and the homeless and continued doing so after his required community service had been completed.

The community takes a real leadership role in the program, said Gerard. They provide the direction in terms of structure, facilitating, deciding what cases to conference, guidelines, policy decisions and communicating with the criminal justice system. And, said Gerard, the effect in the neighborhoods has been extremely positive. Surveys given out after conferences have shown a 99 percent satisfaction rate. The program provides thousands of hours of community service to the neighborhoods each year while greatly improving relationships and safety in the community.

Gerard hopes that someday the criminal justice system will recognize that offenders can and should be held accountable, but that that doesn’t mean harsh punitive measures, more jail space or fining people and releasing them. Instead, it can mean positive interactions with other people and constructive outcomes for everybody involved.

Len Wildman and Tom Dwyer are, respectively, Manager of the Family Victim Services Center and Coordinator of Juvenile Accountability Conferencing (JAC) for the Rochester, New York Police Department. Wildman said that he first became interested in restorative justice when it became clear that the methods used with juveniles in his department weren’t working. He first got permission to contract with the IIRP to provide its Real Justice conference facilitator training for police officers and civilians in Rochester, then performed an experiment at a junior high school. In a year, his officers did 40 conferences. It was very successful, said Wildman.

He subsequently got a grant to implement a three-year restorative justice program, which has been equally effective, with a 93 percent success rate. The juveniles they’ve dealt with haven’t come “back into the system.” Most of the offenses JAC concerns itself with involve juveniles under 15 years of age and minor non-felony offenses, but there are exceptions.

Wildman said he had been a little frightened at the idea of bringing restorative justice into his city of 250,000 people because he had not been aware of its previous use in such a populous and multi-ethnic community. “I don’t have that concern now,” he said.

Dwyer has coordinated 140 conferences to date. “I got goose bumps from the 140th just like from the first,” he said. A major part of the work has entailed meeting and educating participants in the process. Feedback from victims, offenders and their supporters has been exceptional; many wondered why these methods hadn’t been tried years ago. “People don’t want to go to court,” said Dwyer. “They’d much rather be part of a process that gives them a chance to express emotion.”

Wildman mentioned one conference that took place soon after the school shooting incident in Columbine, Colorado. A 14 year old boy was standing outside his school waving a replica of a Beretta handgun — the same kind used by the Rochester Police Department. The boy was arrested for harassment, but the arresting officer was concerned that he didn’t understand the distress he had caused.

Dwyer set up a conference so the boy could hear from people who had been affected by his actions. A man had watched the incident from the second floor of a building across the street, unable to hear anything; he could only see. Too frightened to attend the conference, he sent a letter to be read. When the child heard it, he broke down and cried. At that point he began to feel the impact of what he had done. He also found a lot of support at the conference, learning that people were not out to get him. The boy has never caused another problem, said Dwyer.

Wildman called the program a “win-win situation for the community and the police department.” But people have to see it in action before they embrace it. That’s why it can be difficult to market, he said. Arresting officers are required to be part of the conference. The officers are invariably won over to the process and they tell their fellow officers about it.

The Rochester Police Department has been very successful in getting community service agencies involved in the JAC program to provide community service options for juveniles as part of their conference outcomes, said Wildman. A potential mentoring program has grown out of that situation.

Wildman told of another restorative program used by his department. His city has 45 homicides a year, about one a week. Whole neighborhoods suffer from the pain a homicide causes. In response, a van goes into each neighborhood where a homicide has been committed and volunteers go door to door to ask people how they have been affected by the incident. In the van, police officers, the district attorney in charge of the case and trained counselors are available. In three years, 20,000 households have been covered in this program. The communities seem to truly appreciate it, he said.

Wildman said that he had begun to implement restorative practices within his own section of the police department. He talked about the Finger Lakes (New York) Restorative Justice Consortium which is implementing restorative practices in his region. Wildman hopes that they will be instrumental in spreading the kind of work his department has been doing to a wider area.

Lorenn Walker is a lawyer, public health educator and former Deputy Attorney General of the State of Hawaii who designs violence prevention, conflict resolution and resiliency development programs for juveniles and adults in Oahu, Hawaii. She recently oversaw a juvenile conferencing program in conjunction with the Honolulu Police Department in which 85 conferences took place. The results were exciting, said Walker. Surveys were taken with 405 people who participated in the conferences and almost all were favorable. 90 percent of the juveniles complied with the plans agreed upon in the conferences. The project really educated police, said Walker. The criminal justice system in Hawaii is completely offender based. It was a revelation for them to see the importance of victims in that process, she said.

Walker has been facilitating conferences since 1997. She had the experience of participating in a conference directly when her son — a seventh grader at the time — was assaulted in school. The boy who punched her son was expelled and Walker was unhappy about that. The north shore of Oahu, said Walker, is predominantly non-white and her family is white. Consequently, she feared that the boy’s expulsion might make her son a target for more trouble.

The conference was an amazing experience for Walker. Even though she had facilitated many conferences and knew all the theory, she couldn’t have predicted how she would feel as a participant. She had very negative feelings about the offending boy’s father, thinking him a “lowlife”. He, in turn, thought she and her husband were “born with silver spoons in their mouths.” As a result of the conference, Walker realized that the father was doing the best he could for his children. He learned that Walker had been on her own since she was 14 and had worked her way through college and law school. Three years later, Walker, her husband and the boy’s father are friends and so are the boys. From the conference process, her son also learned how to express his feelings. The offending boy hasn’t assaulted anyone else.

Walker is working on a new project with the IIRP and the Hawaiian Friends of Civic and Law Related Education to develop a process for victims of crimes where there’s no known offender. Victims in these cases are particularly disenfranchised by the system, said Walker, and 70 percent of crimes fall into this category. Ninety percent of criminal defendants plead guilty with a plea bargain. “We spend all of our resources on trials and proving guilt,” said Walker. She believes it would make more sense to put resources into dealing with victims who are left without any kind of healing process.

Walker, herself a victim of a very violent crime at the age of 24, said that a lot of victims don’t know how to get the help they need after such incidents. They feel deep shame, as though the crime was their own fault. Friends and relatives shy away from talking with victims, as it makes them uncomfortable. Said Walker, “We need to provide a forum for victims to tell their stories so other people can connect with us and help us heal.” She added, “Group process is the missing piece of our criminal justice system, especially for victims where there’s no known offender.”

Rob van Pagee is director of Op Kleine Schaal, in the Netherlands, a 20 year old child welfare and child protection agency. He has worked and trained in all the Scandinavian countries plus Belgium and Central and Eastern Europe — including Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia and Russia. Van Pagee works with two restorative models: the Real Justice scripted conference and the Family Group Conference (similar to the Family Unity Meeting explained above by Liz Quinnett). The former, he said, “provides a safe place for victims and offenders and their families ... to discuss what happened and make a plan to repair the harm.” He is using that model mainly in child and youth welfare and protection cases, but it is moving into prisons as well. The latter model, said van Pagee, brings families of children together so they can take responsibility for the welfare of the child.

Van Pagee started out as a social worker. “Families used to put all their problems on my plate,” he said. He made a plan for them with his supervisor and sold it to the client. It didn’t work, he said. The system has been getting more and more medical, doing things for the clients, not with. He felt that should change. What is happening now, he said, is a “paradigm shift” in the traditional process — putting people in position to take responsibility for themselves. Van Pagee sees an opportunity now to change the system. But changing the system is going to be a very big challenge. “We have pilots all the time,’’ he said, “pushing, pulling. But people in power are resistant to the change.”

On the other hand, people who participate in the program are eager to do so. “When I offer Family Group Conferencing to people they come in quite big numbers,” he said. And satisfaction with the process is very high: 80 percent. “We don’t have to train families to do this,” he said.

Problems arise when plans decided in conferences come up against limitations presented by the system. Van Pagee cited the example of a drug-addicted woman with three children. The Family Group Conference came up with a plan, approved by all the social workers, in which the woman would be aided by members of her extended family and friends while she obtained treatment. But she and her children needed to move to an area outside the drug-related neighborhood. That meant involving the housing department, which sat on the application for months. They ended up having to offer the woman out of home placement for her children. This was a shame and waste, as a house rental would have cost $500 to $1,000 per month, while placing three children cost seven times that amount.

What’s needed, said van Pagee, is a donor conference, with all the service organizations participating, to follow the Family Group Conference. A pilot program for this idea is now in process, said van Pagee.

Van Pagee finds the idea that the family is the highest authority “very exciting.” But, he said, “Some people say; ‘You’re never going to make this happen without changing the law.’ “ The problem is, laws don’t change overnight. Advocacy groups are needed to make it happen. “This is more than I’ve ever done and been involved with,” said van Pagee.

Van Pagee has participated in 70 restorative justice conferences, mostly involving youth welfare cases. “Everyone knows how beautiful it is to see people solve their problems together,” he said. But it’s not easy to implement the process within the criminal justice system. However, in the Netherlands, the Prosecutor General’s Office has taken the position that restorative justice is valuable in the criminal justice system. That’s very important. The office did state conditions: that restorative practices should serve the needs of the victims; that they be voluntary; that they be transparent (open to all); that there be no plea bargains up front; and that the restorative plan becomes part of the legal procedure so every prosecutor has to look at it. He (or she) can’t reject it out of hand.

Van Pagee is hopeful that these developments will lead to possible system change. He believes that restorative practices should be offered to everyone, including victims. But he thinks that a great deal of work still needs to be done to familiarize people with the process. “When you ask people: What is justice, they say — police, prosecutors, a judge, jail. But when you ask: What is restorative justice? Nobody knows.”

Nancy Riestenberg is a prevention specialist with the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, a program using a whole range of restorative practices in public schools. Restorative practices, she said, have changed the way people do their jobs and their attitude toward their jobs. They help people make a connection between students and teachers and make the atmosphere in a school more comfortable and respectful. What’s wonderful to see, she said, is when kids take the initiative to hold a circle in the playground, taking care of a problem themselves.

The reason an offender does what he does, said Riestenberg, is that he doesn’t know how to empathize with someone else. In restorative practices, she said, you create a place where empathy can happen. And if you can get people to empathize with each other, they’re much less likely to hurt one another.

Riestenberg’s department got a grant from the Minnesota state legislature to evaluate results of restorative practices in four districts: one urban, one suburban and two rural. In one school where circles were used, the number of violent incidents went from seven a day to one a day over a two year period. Behavior referrals to the office went from 1600 to 450 over three years.

It was not strictly research that her department did, said Riestenberg, but gathering information on preliminary outcomes. They found that to make change happen in a school takes at least two to three years. Even with desire, energy and resources, she said, it takes time. Second, to measure impact, people need to gather data and be honest about the number of suspensions, expulsions, etc. The numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story. It’s easy to gather information on offenders, but harder to gather information on victims or the community. Nobody keeps those numbers, she said. What you have to do is put numbers and stories together.

Riestenberg also learned that if you just have a restorative intervention program, “that will get you someplace.” If you just have classroom management skills that are cognitively based and are about solving problems rather than using power and control over kids, “that will also get you someplace.” But if you use the two together, you will get much farther; the whole school becomes congruent.

Riestenberg told a story about a suburban school involving four third grade boys — three African American and one European American. The European American boy called the other boys a racial slur. This was considered racial harassment and the boy could have been suspended for two to three days. Instead, the boys agreed to sit in a circle and talk, with a facilitator present. The three African American boys had the opportunity to tell the other boy what the racial slur meant to them personally.

For one boy, it was: “the word a white man used when he shot my uncle in the head.” For the second, it was: “the word those men in white sheets use in the movies when they go to burn down people’s houses.” The third boy said, “When I hear it, it hurts my heart so much I have to get away.” The white boy didn’t know how powerful the word was when he used it, but, said Riestenberg, “He certainly does now.” The three African American boys wanted the European American boy to make amends by becoming their friend. Their friendship has lasted several years.

Asked what advice she had for people who wanted to bring restorative practices into schools, Riestenberg said, “Just do it,” then elaborated, “Decide on your sphere of influence and start there.” It can begin on the grass roots level or on a higher level. It should always be voluntary, as that’s one of the basic tenets of restorative practices. “Also,” she said, “let go of the idea that everyone in the school system has to do this.” She called that: “the road to exhaustion.”

Look for advocates, go where the strengths are and be clear that you’re not replacing what’s already there, but adding to it. “If a kid brings a knife to school and you take it away,” she said, “you have to replace it with something.” The kid brought the knife thinking they needed to defend themselves and if you take it away they’ll feel vulnerable. You have to fill that space up with skills, resources and support. The same thing is true for administrators. If you take away their discipline system they feel vulnerable.

Seek out skeptics and ask them to help you. “We need people who say, ‘I’m not sure this will work.’ They’re the people who hold us accountable.” In inviting the skeptics to do their jobs, she said, you give them something useful to do and then they won’t feel the need to sabotage you. Their criticism will be given in the spirit in which it is needed. Involve kids in the training. They offer an enormous amount of wisdom and perspective.

In conclusion, Riestenberg said she was concerned that people didn’t co-opt the term “restorative practices” just to appease people. Also, she hoped that schools would someday be able to attend to the needs of victims, not just focus on offenders.

Betty Achneepineskum and Ivan Iserhoff are Canadian First Nation restorative justice workers with Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services in the Thunder Bay, Ontario area. Restorative justice has always been a concept that Achneepineskum has valued because it’s a part of her culture and tradition. She sees it as a process that can help her people, especially those in correctional facilities. In some of the districts where she works, the inmate population is 75 percent First Nations people. “We know the system that’s in place doesn’t work for our people,” she said. She sees restorative justice as a way of helping her people “beyond the point of punishment.”

Iserhoff worked in the court system for several years investigating police officers in Ontario, geared toward Native complaints. Native people tend to be silent, he said, reluctant to trust any government services because of the bureaucracy and slowness of the system. When he came to Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services, Iserhoff “took the bull by the horns.” “This is what we used to do,” he said, adding, “It’s the only way we’re going to help our people.” However, it’s a slow process, a matter of people hearing about it and seeing the results.

Achneepineskum said that she saw restorative justice not only as an alternative to the Euro-Canadian justice system but as a healing process for her people. Alcohol and drug related charges and venting of anger stem from underlying causes, she said, such as dysfunctional families and sexual abuse.

Iserhoff is using restorative justice to deal with a range of issues including incest, sexual assault, assault with a weapon, breaking and entering, fraud and vandalism. The principle agreement with the Crown Attorneys, he said, was to deal first with lower offenses. Now his group is beginning to gain credibility with the Crown. “It will benefit the Crown,” he said, “because they’ll have to deal with less crime. It’s evident in the numbers.” The charges his organization deals with will gradually become more serious, he said.

Iserhoff is reluctant to invite lawyers and Crown Attorneys into circles. They’re only present to observe the dynamics and emotions of the process, he said, because Native people are very shy. When the attorneys witnessed a circle in a sexual assault case, however, “it blew them out of the water.”

Achneepineskum said that restorative justice had been effective in preventing crime, especially in cases of domestic abuse. When couples get together in a circle they see how their actions have affected each other, their children and their community, and it gives them a different perspective on how to deal with the issues. They also identify treatment, resources and services for their families. “We feel very positive when a couple sets out their own agreement,” she said. Iserhoff told about a spousal abuse case in which a couple went through a restorative justice circle. After attending counseling sessions, he said, they’re helping other young people in the community. This is a sign the process is working.

Asked about the similarity of Native culture with restorative justice, Achneepineskum said that respect is a very strong component of both. She must deal with diverse cultures in her community — some Christian, some observing traditional values — and she must have respect for them all. Honesty is another value common to both. She must honor the values of respect and honesty to gain credibility in the community, she said.

Iserhoff talked about a circle which focused on assault with a weapon. After the circle was done and the two boys had worked things out and forgiven each other, a grandfather came up to Iserhoff and whispered in his ear in his own language, “This is what we used to do a long time ago.” The grandfather was glad to see the old ways being used again. Iserhoff was very touched by the elderly man’s response. It made him feel like a servant to his people — like he was meant to be there, doing what he was doing.

Asked about her hopes for the future of restorative justice in her community, Achneepineskum said that she had a personal vision of a time when they would no longer have the Euro-Canadian justice system coming into their community, but could deal with their own issues. Said Iserhoff, ‘’We talk about self-government, but the only time we’ll ever see it is when we totally take over our own system.” He dreams of a time when his community has no ties to the court system and no government agencies telling them what to do. Native people lead the statistics in every category — suicides, alcoholism... “That’s got to change,” he said. “We’ve got to stop blaming people and just get on with our lives and try to better our situation. What’s done is done,” he said, “1492 was a long time ago.”

I left the conference filled with hope about the future of restorative practices, restorative justice, circles and conferencing. Learning about the ways in which the techniques are being used successfully all over the world was extremely encouraging. Happily, restorative principles seem to be contagious.

Many of the locations where restorative practices are being used now seem to be on the small side — schools, smaller communities. But one can dream. My dream is that someday circle conferences will be used to help make peace between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and between Palestinians and Israelis. I dream that someday restorative practices will be used to improve the quality of life in big cities with high crime rates like New York and Los Angeles.

It will take, as Rob van Pagee called it, “a paradigm shift.” But God knows we need it. One need only look at the skyline of lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center once stood, for proof. And the “war on terror” and invading Iraq will do nothing to repair the harm done on that dreadful day.

Still, I’m hopeful. I attended the conference session led by Mark Green, counsel with the Canadian Department of Justice who helped plan the United Nations Experts’ Meeting on Restorative Justice. If an organization on the scale of the United Nations is beginning to recognize restorative justice as viable, perhaps there is hope for our world, yet. We must keep dreaming and keep working . . .

By Katharine Cahn, Karin Gunderson, Nancy Shore, Judith Wirth, Briana Yancey



This article presents the findings of a retrospective study of 70 family group conferences (FGC) conducted in Washington State. These 70 FGCs addressed the well-being of 138 children. The families within the evaluation were primarily referred by foster care units rather than investigative units and involved cases that had been in the child welfare system for over 90 days. Families were invited to participate in the decision-making process, engaging both the maternal and paternal sides of the family with greater success than standard case planning approaches. Children who had a conference experienced high rates of reunification or kinship placement, and low rates of re-referral to CPS. These findings generally remained stable as long as two years post-conference. This study, the largest long-term follow-up study of FGC published to date, suggests that FGCs can be an effective planning approach for families involved with the public child welfare agency, resulting in safe, permanent plans for children at risk.



Child welfare policy and practice in the United States have been described in terms of a pendulum, swinging between child safety and family preservation. The landmark Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) represented a swing towards family preservation where policies promoted efforts to keep families intact and prevent the placement of children into foster care (Cole, 1995). As the country struggled with rising foster care placements and a number of high profile child deaths in the eighties and nineties, public opinion began to blame this focus on family preservation, and called for renewed attention to child safety.