Balanced and Restorative Justice Practice Tools

Quality Restorative Justice Practice

Restorative justice emphasizes the importance of elevating the role of crime victims and communities in the process of holding offenders accountable for their behavior, while offering offenders the opportunity to make amends directly to the people and community they violated.

Financial restitution, community service, victim-offender mediation, and the more recent development of family group conferencing are widely understood to illustrate restorative justice practice. The manner in which these interventions are implemented, however, is likely to influence the degree to which the interventions are experienced as restorative by victims, communities, and juvenile offenders.

It is overly simplistic to conclude that specific interventions are either totally restorative or not restorative at all, particularly if such an assessment is based solely upon a program's description. Instead, it is more likely that most of these interventions, and others, can be viewed along a continuum from having a least restorative to most restorative impact on crime victims, other community members, and offenders.

Grounding Interventions in Key Restorative Justice Values

Unless an intervention is clearly grounded in restorative justice values and its procedures are designed to maximize the use of those values, it can easily be compromised to meet primarily traditional, retributive justice system political, bureaucratic, or economic needs, rather than meeting the needs of those most affected by crime -- the victim, victimized community, and juvenile offender.

Cooptation of programs could easily lead to the "fast food" version of restorative justice practice, which would provide a "quick fix," remain offender focused, use victims as "props" rather than active partners, and have little patience to listen to victims' stories, validate their needs, or invite their participation in the process.

Without adequate community involvement, juvenile justice professionals could continue to be service providers instead of facilitators of community justice. A seemingly restorative practice could remain a primarily punitive exercise that keeps offenders in passive roles and stigmatizes them rather than respectfully allowing them to take responsibility and earnestly make amends.

Table 6 illustrates how common restorative justice interventions might be implemented from "least restorative" to "most restorative."

Table 6. Quality of Restorative Justice Practice Continium
Least Restorative Impact
Most Restorative Impact
Financial Restitution
  • No phone or in-person contact with victim to receive his or her input.
  • Written input only.
  • Offender makes payment to court and has no sense of making amends to the victim.
  • Restitution viewed as punishment rather than reparation.
  • In-person or phone contact to hear the victim's story of how the crime affected him or her and to identify his or her need for restitution or other concerns (this could be followed up with written documentation).
  • Restitution requirement presented to offender as way to repair harm.
  • Restitution used as a way to increase offender's understanding of the concrete nature of victim loss.
Community Service
  • Court orders a specific number of hours of community service with no victim or community input.
  • Service projects are demeaning.
  • Community service viewed by the community and offender as punishment.
  • In-person or phone contact to hear the victim's side of how the crime affected him or her and to ask if there is a particulary meaningful type of community service that the victim would like to see the offender complete.
  • Involvement of community in identifying projects valued by the community and the offender.
  • Projects that involve offender and community members working side by side.
  • The contribution of offenders is acknowledged in public.
  • Service includes a reflection componant that helps community and offender understand community service as a process for giving back to the community
  • Service gives opportunity for offender to gain or enhance meaningful competencies and skills.
Victim-Offender Mediation


Family Group Conferencing

Agreement Driven: Offender Focus

  • Entire focus is upon determining the amount of financial restitution to be paid, with no opportunity to talk directly about the full impact of the offender's crime upon the victim and the community.
  • No separate preparation meetings with the victim and offender prior to bringing the parties together to discuss expectations and needs.
  • No choice given to victims about where they would feel safest and most comfortable to meet or whom they would like to be present.
  • Victims given only written notice to appear for mediation session at preset time, with no preparation.
  • Mediator or facilitator describes the offense, and offender then speaks, with the victim simply asking a few questions or responding to questions of the mediator.
  • Highly directive style of mediation or facilitation, with the mediator talking most of the time, continually asking both the victim and offender questions, but little if any direct dialogue between the involved parties.
  • Low tolerance of moments of silence or expression of feelings.
  • Voluntary for victim but required of offender regardless of whether he or she takes responsibility.
  • Settlement driven and brief (15 to 20 minutes).
Dialogue Driven: Victim Sensitive Focus

  • Primary focus is on providing an opportunity for victim and offender to talk directly to each other, to allow victims to express the full impact of the crime upon their lives and to receive answers to important questions they have, and to allow offenders to learn the real human impact of their behavior and to take direct responsibility for making things right.
  • Restitution is important but secondary to talking about the impact of the crime.
  • Victims are continually given choices throughout the process, such as where to meet and whom they would like to have present.
  • Separate preparation meetings with victim and offender prior to bringing them together, with emphasis upon listening to how the crime has affected them, identifying their needs, and preparing them for the mediation or conference session.
  • Nondirective style of mediation or facilitation, with mediator not talking most of the time; high tolerance of silence; and use of a humanistic or transformative mediation model.
  • High tolerance for expression of feelings and full impact of crime.
  • Voluntary attendance for victim and offender.
  • Trained community volunteers serve as mediators or comediators along with agency staff.
  • Dialogue driven and typically about an hour in length (or longer).
Adapted from Unbreit. 1997. Resorative Justice: Interventions' impact varies; manner of implementation critical. In The Crime Victim Report.

Community Justice Officer Position Description

To realize greater systemic reform toward a balanced and restorative system of juvenile justice, the Deschutes County, OR, Department of Community Justice has transformed its probation officer positions into "community justice officer" positions. The revised position description, which is included as appendix B, illustrates how juvenile justice professionals can change the way they view their work, their responsibilities, and their performance goals to serve victims, community members, and offenders.

Sample Disposition

The Deschutes County, OR, Department of Community Justice has developed a balanced and restorative format for developing case dispositions. A sample disposition of a juvenile offender who admitted to theft of a vehicle parked at a senior citizen housing project is included as appendix C. The victim agreed to mediation, and the disposition reflects the victim's suggestions.

Balanced and Restorative Justice Case Management Guide

The BARJ Case Management Guide shown in Table 7 was modified from one originally developed by the Deschutes County, OR, Department of Community Justice for juvenile justice professionals to comprehensively apply BARJ principles to their work with youthful offenders. The Guide takes the juvenile justice professional through assessment, planning, supervision, and outcome-measurement functions, while considering the three components of the balanced approach -- accountability, competency development, and community safety.

Table 7. Balanced and Restorative Justice Case Management Guide
Competency Development
Community Safety

1. Is the victim identifiable?

2. Can the victim determine loss?

3. Is the loss amount within reasonable limits to be repaid?

4. Is the victim willing to participate in victim-offender mediation?

5. Is the offender's attitude appropriate for victim-offender mediation/dialogue?

6. Is victim empathy training required prior to offender's participation in victim-offender mediation/dialogue?

7. What is the level of understanding by the offender of the harm to the victim and the community?

8. Does the victim wish to designate a form of community service?


1. Is the offender employed?

2. If not, is the offender about to secure work on his or her own or does he or she need job-seeking skills?

3. Is a therapeutic program needed to enable youth or parents to take part in skills programs?

4. What are the youth's strengths and interests that may be further developed?

5. What opportunities exist for the juvenile to teach others from the experience?

1. Is the offender a warrantable risk to remain in his or her own home?

2. Do the parents have the capability to control the behavior of the offender?

3. Is there need for supervised home detention backup?

4. What behavior will prompt the use of detention?

5. Are there any adults in the youth's life who may currently or potentially have a positive influence?

6. With what communities does the youth identify?

7. What portion of the juvenile's time is spent in structured activities?

1. What level of restitution order is reasonable?

2. What will be the repayment schedule?

3. What consequences will be imposed if the restitution order is not followed?

4. Is interaction with the victim advisable or desired by the victim?

5. Is there a particular community service activity that is related to the offense?

6. What community service will be required and who will supervise?

7. What strategy will be used to increase the juvenile's awareness of the harm of the offense?


1. What specific living, learning, or working skills programs will be arranged for the youth?

2. Is there a need for individual tutoring?

3. What job skills program is available for the offender?

4. Is there an appropriate parenting-skills program for the offender's parents?

5. Are mentors available to work with the youth?

6. What community resources will be used?

7. Can the community service be designed to provide learning opportunities or skill building?

8. How can the juvenile be involved in planning, leadership, and teaching others?

1. What resources can be identified to ensure surveillance and monitoring of the youth?

2. Are there grandparents or neighbors who can help supervise the youth?

3. Is there a need to identify detention backup space if the home detention efforts fail?

4. What reporting requirements should be imposed?

5. What should specific responsibilities of the parents be to ensure compliance with rules?

6. How can the parents access support from the system when they have difficulty with compliance by the youth?

7. What community activities can be used to provide supervision and structure to the juvenile's day?

1. Has the restitution contract schedule been followed?

2. Have community service hours been performed?

3. If the responsibilities are not performed, what consequences should be imposed?

4. Is the offender fulfilling commitments made to the victim?


1. Has the youth or family completed the skills programs?

2. What evidence exists that the competencies are gained?

3. Is there need to enroll the youth or family in more indepth programs?

4. Is there need to utilize a therapeutic program to enable the youth to take part in skills programs?

1. Has the youth followed all home detention orders?

2. Has the youth demonstrated the ability to control delinquent behavior when there has been free time?

3. What long-term controls can the family adopt to remedy the problems?

4. Has the youth developed any deeper connections with the community?

5. What adults will supervise or mentor the youth?

1. Did the victim express satisfaction with the system's response and the youth's subsequent behavior?

2. Has the youth made concrete amends to the victim and the community?

3. Does the youth express and demonstrate an understanding of the link between his or her offense behavior and consequences?

Measures of Success

1. Is the youth and/or family using the skills taught to succeed in home, school and work?

2. Is the youth replacing his or her offense-behavior pattern with competencies and habits that meet his or her needs?

3. Has the youth developed a positive relationship with an adult mentor?

1. Did the youth refrain from a new offense?

2. Is the family more capable of providing successful supervision and control of all children in the family?

3. Does the youth feel connected or have a greater sense of belonging to his or her communities?

4. Are community members involved in supervision and control of the youth in the community?

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