Restorative justice is an appropriate approach when dealing with juvenile delinquency and misbehavior. The goal of restorative justice is to repair the harm or damage done to the victim and community while changing the offender’s behavior. This can be achieved through victim offender mediation, family group counseling, neighborhood reparative boards and sentencing peacemaker circles.
In victim-offender mediation, the victim and the offenders meet and discuss their perspectives on the incident. The victim and offenders work together to find a solution to the problem. For example, in a video I watched about restorative justice I learned about a boy named David who was killed when he was a passenger in a car that was driven by his friend, Dylan, who was drunk. Understandably, David’s family felt resentment and hate toward Dylan, and hadn’t been able to resolve these feelings through the traditional court process. When David’s family finally met with Dylan during victim-offender mediation they recognized the remorse and regret that David felt and how much he had lost. In turn, Dylan got to see, firsthand, the harm that he caused the family. Through conservation they were able to help heal each other and move on with their lives.
I witness and engage in restorative justice on a daily basis as a youth counselor in a facility operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice. When a juvenile in the facility violates a rule or causes harm or damage to others we look at ways to repair the harm and also to teach the juvenile why their actions or thinking was wrong. For example, one juvenile that I have in my group called a staff member a “meatball” during group counseling. He was acting out in front of other peers, wanting to make an impression. Instead of throwing a consequence at the juvenile, I sat down with him and the staff member for a little mediation. The juvenile was able to explain his behavior and express his feelings to the staff in a respectful manner. In turn, the staff member was able to explain to the juvenile how his words and behaviors affected him and how he felt disrespected. In the end, we all three agreed on an appropriate consequence. The youth apologized to the staff member in front of the other boys in the unit, completed a thinking report, and explained to his mother what he had done.
The mediation process helped everyone involved. The youth was ashamed and embarrassed about his immature behavior. But, in contrast to typical sanctions that turn this shame into anger and resentment, the mediation process promoted healing and forgiveness. The youth learned from his mistakes, the staff member felt better after talking to the juvenile, and future incidents were avoided. That’s what juvenile justice is, or should be, all about. Sure, I give consequences when needed, and I run a tight unit, but it isn’t necessary to apply the harshest punishment possible for rule infractions. My job is to teach youth new ways of thinking and behaving. That’s why I’m in favor of restorative justice for juveniles.
Author Ryan Bush is an undergraduate student in the EKU Online Corrections and Juvenile Justice Studies program at Eastern Kentucky University. He will be graduating in Summer of 2015. He works as a youth counselor for the Department of Juvenile Justice at the Cadet Leadership and Education Program, (CLEP), in Breathitt County, Kentucky.