Restorative justice conferencing for reducing recidivism in young offenders

The number of young people who commit offences remains an area of concern in many countries, particular considering the high rate of those who then go on to reoffend. An increasingly popular technique used with young offenders, as an alternative to normal court proceedings, is to conduct a Restorative Justice Conference. This conference involves a meeting between the offender, the victim or victims, the supporters of both and a conference coordinator. The conference gives all individuals involved a chance to share their experience and to decide together how best to repair the harm caused by the offence. It is believed that providing an opportunity for the offender to make amends for what they have done, along with the victim's forgiveness, increases the satisfaction of all those involved and reduces the likelihood of reoffending. The purpose of this review was to look at whether young people who are part of a restorative justice conference are less likely to reoffend than those who go through normal court proceedings. Four randomised controlled trials were included in this review. Findings indicate that there was no difference between those who are part of restorative justice conferences and those in normal court proceedings in terms of the rate of reoffending after the intervention. There was also no difference between these two groups in terms of a change in their self-esteem or their satisfaction with the process. Results may indicate that victims who are part of a restorative conference are more satisfied than those who are part of court proceedings. The quality of the included studies was low. More high quality research using a design where participants are randomly allocated to an intervention or control group is needed.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is currently a lack of high quality evidence regarding the effectiveness of restorative justice conferencing for young offenders. Caution is urged in interpreting the results of this review considering the small number of included studies, subsequent low power and high risk of bias. The effects may potentially be more evident for victims than offenders. The need for further research in this area is highlighted.

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Background: 

Restorative justice is "a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offence resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future" (Marshall 2003). Despite the increasing use of restorative justice programmes as an alternative to court proceedings, no systematic review has been undertaken of the available evidence on the effectiveness of these programmes with young offenders. Recidivism in young offenders is a particularly worrying problem, as recent surveys have indicated the frequency of re-offences for young offenders has ranged from 40.2% in 2000 to 37.8% in 2007 (Ministry of Justice 2009)

Objectives: 

To evaluate the effects of restorative justice conferencing programmes for reducing recidivism in young offenders.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following databases up to May 2012: CENTRAL, 2012 Issue 5, MEDLINE (1978 to current), Bibliography of Nordic Criminology (1999 to current), Index to Theses (1716 to current), PsycINFO (1887 to current), Social Sciences Citation Index (1970 to current), Sociological Abstracts (1952 to current), Social Care Online (1985 to current), Restorative Justice Online (1975 to current), Scopus (1823 to current), Science Direct (1823 to current), LILACS (1982 to current), ERIC (1966 to current), Restorative Justice Online (4 May 2012), WorldCat (9 May 2012), ClinicalTrials.gov (19 May 2012) and ICTRP (19 May 2012). ASSIA, National Criminal Justice Reference Service and Social Services Abstracts were searched up to May 2011. Relevant bibliographies, conference programmes and journals were also searched.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs of restorative justice conferencing versus management as usual, in young offenders.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed the risk of bias of included trials and extracted the data. Where necessary, original investigators were contacted to obtain missing information.

Main results: 

Four trials including a total of 1447 young offenders were included in the review. Results failed to find a significant effect for restorative justice conferencing over normal court procedures for any of the main analyses, including number re-arrested (odds ratio (OR) 1.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.59 to 1.71; P = 0.99), monthly rate of reoffending (standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.06, 95% CI -0.28 to 0.16; P = 0.61), young person’s remorse following conference (OR 1.73, 95% CI 0.97 to 3.10; P = 0.06), young person's recognition of wrongdoing following conference (OR 1.97, 95% CI 0.81 to 4.80; P = 0.14), young person's self-perception following conference (OR 0.95, 95% CI 0.55 to 1.63; P = 0.85), young person's satisfaction following conference (OR 0.42, 95% CI 0.04 to 4.07; P = 0.45) and victim's satisfaction following conference (OR 4.05, 95% CI 0.56 to 29.04; P = 0.16). A small number of sensitivity analyses did indicate significant effects, although all are to be interpreted with caution.

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