by Jennifer Shack, Director of Research
A recently published study has found that juveniles who participate in restorative justice are less likely to re-offend. In “The Effectiveness of Various Restorative Justice Interventions on Recidivism Outcomes Among Juvenile Offenders
” (Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
, 2016), Jeff Bouffard, Maisha Cooper and Kathleen Bergseth compared 284 youths referred to restorative justice processes from 2000-2005 to 267 who went through the traditional court process during the same period. Those referred to restorative justice had the opportunity to participate in one of three interventions: direct mediation (or victim-offender mediation), indirect mediation (in which the victim and offender do not meet face-to-face) or a community panel (utilized in cases with no direct victim; in this process the offender would meet with school officials, police officers and volunteer community members). The study found that all three interventions were more effective at reducing recidivism than the traditional court process.
Of the 284 youth who were referred to restorative justice, the majority (155) participated in direct mediation. Of the others, 44 participated in indirect mediation and 33 were referred to a community panel. Another 52 were referred to, but did not participate in, any of the processes. During an average 3.5 year follow-up, 50% of the traditional group had at least one re-offense (defined as a new official contact with the police), as compared to 33% for direct mediation, 24% for those who participated in a community panel and 27% for those who participated in indirect mediation. Each of these findings was statistically significant.
The study also looked at time to re-offense, but the data was less clear. The mediation interventions were found to delay any re-offense that occurred. Time to re-offense for those in the traditional group averaged about 11 months. In comparison, those who went through direct mediation averaged 12.5 months before their first re-offense, while those who went through indirect mediation averaged 22 months. However, those who participated in a community panel had a shorter time to re-offense than those in the traditional group, at 10.2 months.
The researchers used multi-variate analysis to control for other possible contributing factors. However, there is a question of whether selection bias was completely overcome. The group that was referred to restorative justice but did not participate in a process had a recidivism rate of 31%, which was significantly lower than the traditional group and comparable to the rate of those who went through direct mediation. Further, re-offense for this group averaged 18 months, longer than either the community panel or direct mediation group. In addition, indirect mediation, in which victim and offender did not meet face-to-face, appeared to be more effective at both reducing recidivism and increasing time to re-offense. These results are puzzling and require further examination.