July | August 2017

Research Central: Examining the Impact of Restorative Justice Principles in Juvenile Justice

Crime can have a sustained negative effect on both victims and offenders. Victims may struggle to forgive the perpetrator and feel that justice was not served, while offenders may struggle with recurring delinquent behavior. In 2015, OJJDP provided funding to George Mason University (GMU) to examine the impact of restorative justice programs and practices—which generally include victim-offender mediation, restitution, and community service—in reducing recidivism and improving other outcomes for both youth offenders and victims.

Through the systematic meta-analysis of studies that evaluated the effectiveness of restorative justice programs and practices compared with more traditional juvenile court processing, the researchers identified 84 quantitative evaluations nested within 60 unique studies and analyzed their delinquency, nondelinquency, and victim outcomes.

Findings from those studies demonstrated that restorative justice programs and practices moderately reduced future delinquent behavior, and increased victim satisfaction and perceptions of fairness. Notably, victims reported an increased willingness to forgive the offender and an improved perception that the outcome was just.

The researchers also found that certain types of restorative justice programs, including victim-offender conferencing, family group conferencing, arbitration and/or mediation programs, and circle sentencing programs helped to reduce delinquency behaviors. Results also showed police cautioning and other diversion programs had the largest positive effect on delinquency outcomes, suggesting that these programs might be effective for low-risk and first-time youth offenders.

GMU’s research provides a broad, systematic overview and analysis of restorative justice programs and practices. The results seem to support many of the essential principles of restorative justice and its ability to reduce recidivism. However, the lack of more high-quality studies and smaller effects identified in the most credible studies suggests that more rigorous research evaluations are needed to further understand the impact restorative justice can have on the juvenile justice system.


The final technical report on this study—Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Principles in Juvenile Justice: A Meta-Analysis—provides more information on the researchers’ methodology and findings. Access the report online or download the accompanying Research in Brief summary designed to help practitioners understand and apply the study findings.



The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that established OJJDP authorizes the Administrator to conduct research and evaluations and undertake statistical analyses on issues related to juvenile offending and victimization. Because OJJDP is the only Office of Justice Programs agency with dual mandates for research and programs, we are uniquely positioned to integrate research in our programmatic functions, and are committed to translating research into practice. Look to this recurring column authored by members of OJJDP’s Research Unit to distill topically relevant and timely OJJDP-supported research.