When I first learned of Restorative Justice in 2009 I could tell from descriptions that it was, by design, a much more holistic and thoughtful approach to dealing with youth misbehaviors and criminal activity than our current system of juvenile justice. So, I jumped at the opportunity to hear an expert on Restorative Justice speak at Bellarmine University in November 2009. The expert, Allan MacRae, was overseeing Family Group Conferences for Youth Justice and Care and Protection for New Zealand (the birthplace of the model used in Restorative Justice).
I was fascinated to learn that Family Group Conferencing is a process taken from a centuries old tradition practiced by the Maori (New Zealand’s indigenous population). And I was amazed at New Zealand’s statistics showing very high rates of success and very low rates of recidivism using Family Group Conferencing as the primary approach to dealing with school discipline, juvenile crime, and child welfare cases. However, after leaving the presentation I was left wondering whether this different approach could be effective in America, given our cultural differences.
Good news! The principles and underlying processes of Restorative Justice have been brought to America and have proven highly effective. An hour-long documentary, Fixing Juvie Justice, from PBS (but not aired on KET) shows how Restorative Justice has been successfully used in Baltimore. Watching Restorative Justice in practice is the best way to understand it, so I highly recommend this video.
If you’re intrigued by Restorative Justice, or if you work in an educational, child welfare, juvenile justice or court setting and have been looking for a successful alternative approach to use, I also highly recommend you attend the upcoming Restorative Justice Symposium on October 10th put on by Spalding University, the Kentucky Center for Restorative Justice and the Children’s Law Center. See details below.