Getting Help: Strategies for Involving Stakeholders

The juvenile justice system cannot succeed in changing the behavior of juvenile offenders or improving community safety without the active involvement of the community. The community has tools, resources, and power that the system does not have. Juvenile justice system activity must be built around a core of community activity.

This new relationship between the community and the juvenile justice system is shaped by several key ideas:

  • The community is the source of moral authority or influence.

  • The community is the center of decisionmaking whenever possible.

  • The community is the center of action.

  • Formal government is the source of legal authority (as contrasted with the moral authority of the community).

  • The government is in a position of broader oversight than the community.

  • The government is the guardian of individual concerns (in contrast with community responsibility for collective concerns).

The purpose of the legal authority is to affirm the community's authority and provide a mechanism for responding to offenders' failure to comply with requirements of the sanction. The community's moral authority is central and the State's legal authority is secondary and a backup. Legal authority that is not clearly grounded in the community's moral authority as demonstrated by active community involvement is hollow and ineffective.

In general, communities manage individual behavior more effectively than governments do. However, communities need government support and resources and the perspective of an oversight mechanism that is separate from the community.

Because formal government processes have gradually assumed much authority and power, the juvenile justice system also has a leadership responsibility in moving from the current approach to one in which the community is the lead partner. The system needs to:

  • Assist in developing the transformed community role through information, education, and technical assistance.

  • Link communities with others that have common interests and goals to share experience and knowledge.

  • Lead a process of clarifying the statewide vision and goals for the juvenile justice process.

  • Monitor community activities to ensure that values of the State and Nation are honored (e.g., fairness and appropriate due process).

Guiding Principles

The following principles should guide efforts to gain greater commitment to restorative justice values in the community.

  • Special outreach efforts to victims groups are important because victims have historically been left out of the juvenile justice process. Victims groups have had to fight the system for nearly every gain they have achieved. Consequently, many victims and their advocates are skeptical that an initiative of an agency serving juvenile offenders can genuinely have victim interests at its center. An unwavering commitment to involve victims despite obstacles that may be encountered is critical to ensure that the outcomes are genuinely restorative.

  • Victims and community members should be included on advisory boards, councils, and committees for implementing the BARJ Model. (Work groups that include only juvenile justice and agency professionals should be avoided.)

  • Restorative justice should not be mandated in a top-down authoritarian process.

  • The work of putting the principles of restorative justice into practice must be accomplished at the local level and must involve all stakeholders.

  • The appropriate role of national, State, or regional leadership is to articulate the vision, disseminate information, and provide support and technical assistance to jurisdictions attempting to evolve into a more restorative approach. National and State agencies can also implement pilot programs to demonstrate application of the principles. The Federal Government and State governments are responsible for monitoring outcomes to ensure fairness, equity, and effectiveness of processes designed at the local level.

  • The process of implementing restorative approaches must model the principles themselves (e.g., victims must have a voice, and the community must be involved).

  • A clear understanding by practitioners and stakeholders, including the community, of the philosophical underpinnings of the approach is essential to ensure that changes are substantive and not merely cosmetic. Program implementation without an explicit understanding of underlying values often leads to undesirable results.

  • Each juvenile justice professional and community member has opportunities to contribute to a restorative vision in the community even without making major system changes.

  • The community contains natural allies in fields outside juvenile justice who can bring depth and credibility to the advocacy of a restorative approach.

  • Energy is most effectively expended in working with individuals who are interested in trying restorative approaches. Seeds sown in fertile soil produce the most impressive results, which, by example, will convince skeptics more readily than direct persuasion.

  • There is no single roadmap or blueprint for building a restorative system.

  • A feedback loop between stakeholder and leadership is important.

  • The juvenile justice system and the community must be prepared to make mistakes.

  • Proponents of the BARJ Model do not have answers to all questions raised by the principles of restorative justice. The process of searching for answers should involve dialogue with all who have an interest in the question.

Putting the principles and strategies to work to build community support and participation requires several basic community organizing skills:

  • Find Your Natural Allies in the Community.

    • Talk to individuals interested in violence prevention, underlying causes of crime, social justice, stronger neighborhoods, a sense of community, and children's issues. You are likely to find some who resonate to restorative justice values and see great potential for addressing some of their own interests through that framework.

    • Listen to the interests of others. Ask them how restorative justice fits with their interests. Learn to use language that makes connections for the audience. When speaking to educators, talk about the connections between restorative justice and school discipline problems. When talking to law enforcement, talk about the natural fit between community-based policing and restorative justice. When speaking to business people, talk about restorative justice in the language of total quality management or effective government and economics.

    • Identify the common ground for othersÑdo not assume that it is obvious to them. Explain why restorative justice matters to them, based on their own interests.

    • Engage people in a discussion of their own worries, fears, and concerns and identify, where possible, how a restorative approach provides a potential solution to that problem.

  • Avoid Becoming Identified With a Particular Political Label.

    • Find community allies on both ends of the political spectrum. Restorative justice is consistent with fiscal conservativism, the call for a reduced role for government, and an emphasis on personal accountability. On the other hand, the reduced emphasis on physical punishment and the call for community accountability are consistent with traditional liberal values.

    • Seek out respected leaders with divergent points of view as key supporters of restorative justice.

  • Listen to Those Who Disagree.

    • The entire community is a stakeholder in the issue of community safety, so everyone deserves to be respectfully heard in the process of deciding the direction of the system. Listen carefully so that you can understand the objections. Develop an explanation that responds to the objections for use when speaking to other groups.

    • Acknowledge the need to have dialogue and explore further on issues for which you do not have answers. Be prepared to learn from the objections raised. BARJ is an emerging model, and proponents should be responsive to valid objections.

    • Probe beneath surface objections to identify underlying issues that may be more readily resolved than is initially apparent. For example, what may appear to be a desire for retribution is often actually a concern for public safety. A restorative approach cannot deliver retribution but can potentially deliver at least as much community safety as the current system.

  • Deal With Victim Issues First.

    • If those raising objections are victims groups or advocates, then use the above skills over and over again.

    • Be willing to engage in dialogue with victims or victim advocates on their ÒturfÓ repeatedly. Offer to come back to hear their concerns. Articulate their concerns in your own words to be sure you understand.

    • Ask a sympathetic victim supporter to help you understand the issues being raised. Seek victim input for any proposed policy and program change. Learn about victim issues and the experience of victimization.

    • Listen to victim stories. Use victim stories in your public speaking. In written materials or overheads, for example, list items related to victims before those related to offenders.

  • Balance Focus With Flexibility.

    • It is critical to be clear and consistent about the values and vision of the BARJ approach, but there are multiple ways to achieve the vision. Be prepared to modify your approach if it is not working and other more promising avenues appear. Success may depend more on being responsive to opportunity than on detailed long-range action plans.

  • Monitor Your Own Assumptions and Stereotypes.

    • Promoting a new paradigm requires breaking out of your own paradigms in many ways. Unexpected sources of support and opportunities may be missed if you do not become aware of your own assumptions about others and consciously put those aside.

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OJJDP Report: Guide for Implementing the Balanced and Restorative Justice Model NCJ 167887