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Barron County Restorative Justice Programs:
A Partnership Model for Balancing Community and Government Resources for Juvenile Justice Services
Ted Gordon Lewis
Barron County Restorative Justice Programs, Rice Lake, Wisconsin
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ted Gordon Lewis, Barron County Restorative Justice Programs, Rice Lake, WI 54868. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Since its inception in 1999, Barron County Restorative Justice Programs (BCRJP), in partnership with government-based agencies in Barron County, Wisconsin, has demonstrated the benefits of integrating greater community-based services with juvenile justice systems. An overview of BCRJP programming shows how its wide array of services enriches the county’s capacity to provide comprehensive services. With 12 years of strong partnerships and positive outcome data, a symbiotic relationship between BCRJP and its referral partners is a positive example of a balanced integration of community resources with justice systems.
BCRJP has resulted in a number of benefits, including the following: crime and recidivism have declined; higher-level interventions have been reduced, as demonstrated by an increase in the number of diversionary referrals; the county has saved on related costs with an average cost of $378 per offender; and youth offenders have been reintegrated into the community, exemplified by the post-sanction volunteerism of Restorative Teen Court. The effectiveness of BCRJP interventions are aligned with the recommendations of the Georgetown University study, Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs (Lipsey, Howell, Kelly, Chapman, & Carver, 2010).
One often finds the word ‘balance’ in the language of restorative justice. Central to restorative philosophy is the way in which communities, victims, and offenders should receive balanced attention in any society’s response to crime. The Balanced and Restorative Justice Project (BARJ), reflecting this emphasis in its very name, was awarded an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) grant in 1992; since then, BARJ has had a significant influence on the spread and acceptance of restorative models within government-based justice agencies in the United States (OJJDP, 1996). A more recent development that raises the topic of balance is the Parallel Justice movement, promoted largely by Susan Herman (Herman, 2010). Responding to the imbalance of offender-centric services in the United States, Herman maps out a vision for providing greater services to victims of crime as a way to provide a long overdue counter-balance.
In addition to balancing effective services for offenders and victims, proponents of restorative justice have spoken of the need to balance government and community resources. This balance will be highlighted in this article. Starting with the catalytic moment of the 1974 “Elmira case” in Ontario, Canada (Kelly, 2004), the restorative justice movement has consistently mobilized greater community resources to assist with justice processes. Howard Zehr, in the now vintage video, “Restorative Justice: Making Things Right,” spoke of how the state’s role throughout much of the mid-20th century was enlarged at the expense of the community’s role in justice processes (Zehr, 1990). The state plays a key role in providing safety and supervision, which must be balanced with the community’s role of fully supporting victims and offenders so both can be fully reintegrated into society. Governments and communities each have distinct strengths while having distinct limitations. According to Daniel Van Ness, “We must re-think the relative roles and responsibilities of the government and the community. Government is responsible for preserving a just order and the community for establishing a just peace” (Van Ness, 2006). In this light, the community not only has a stake in good outcomes, but a stake in the very means that ensure good outcomes (McCold, 1995).
This article documents the way in which balancing government and community resources is working to provide comprehensive restorative justice programming in one county in rural Northwest Wisconsin. This article does not consider restorative justice models in general or review the literature available on this subject (although a brief resource list appears at the end of this article). Neither does this article reach general conclusions about how a balanced partnership between government and community resources results in effective programming, restorative or otherwise. Effectiveness can result from many factors, along with many combinations of stakeholder collaborations. This article does, however, present positive outcomes that demonstrate, in the case of BCRJP, the effectiveness of programming over time to strengthen this partnership model between government agencies and community-based operations. Statistics and testimonial statements are woven into the article to document the scope of programming and to illustrate positive outcome measures, but it will require other writers, with greater research methods than those reflected here, to fully substantiate program effectiveness and to draw conclusions that may serve to justify the replication of this Wisconsin example.
As stated earlier, governments and communities each have distinctive strengths. Key to forming and maintaining good partnerships is for both entities to recognize what they need from the other, thus enabling them to establish a symbiotic ‘two-way street’ that can be sustained over time. Examples of what community-based operations can do better than government justice agencies include mobilizing volunteers, creating and implementing new programs quickly, and adapting processes to best fit the needs of particular cases. In short, community programs offer the distinctive strength of flexibility, which can compensate for the limitations inherent in government structures. At the same time, the rigid structures of government agencies and policies are part of their strength, and community operations can benefit from a framework that ensures safety and professional quality control.
This vision of partnership was evident in Judge Edward R. Brunner’s effort to establish BCRJP in 1998, having at that time been influenced by the training and expertise of BARJ researchers Gordon Bazemore, Dennis Maloney, and Mark Umbreit. Brunner understood that the best way to fulfill the three BARJ priorities (accountability toward victims, competency development, and community safety) was to mobilize greater community resources in partnership with government resources (OJJDP, 1997). In a 2010 video interview, Judge Brunner stated his interest in basing a new restorative justice initiative outside the walls of government agencies precisely because of the limits and restrictions of county justice agencies, and the distinct strengths and resources of a community-based operation (Lewis, 2010). At the same time, he envisioned restorative justice opportunities available to and integrated with every government-based agency and school in the county.
Thus started Barron County Restorative Justice Programs in 1999, an independent non-profit organization serving all residents of rural northwestern Barron County, Wisconsin, a perfect 30-mile-wide square with a population of 45,000, 96% of whom are Caucasian. But the word ‘independent’ is misleading. It would be more accurate to say ‘interdependent.’ The success of the agency’s work over the past 12 years is due largely to the strong partnerships that have existed since its first year. One needs only to scan the titles of the agency’s board of directors over the past decade to understand the power of this interdependency: a circuit judge, a district attorney, a director of adult corrections, a director of human services (who oversees juvenile justice), a sheriff, a police chief, a municipal judge, a school superintendent, a principal, a university dean, a teacher, a counselor, and the list goes on. These stakeholders are not only vital in their support for restorative practices, but most represent the very agencies that refer cases to BCRJP, and thus are agencies that benefit from work done to complement their own missions and interests.
A symbiotic relationship between county agencies, schools, and BCRJP has evolved to the extent that if BCRJP ceased to exist, the referral agencies would experience some degree of loss due to the pressures of handling extra casework. Additional partnerships for BCRJP include Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin, where BCRJP operates as a Goodwill program while operating as a separate 501(c)3 (an organization with nonprofit status). BCRJP’s full involvement with the Safe & Stable Families Coalition is another partnership vital to promoting agency-community collaboration throughout the county. As a show of the value that BCRJP brings to Barron County, local tax-payer monies account for 55% of BCRJP’s annual budget. This includes not only general county funds, but also monies that go through schools and social services. Currently, BCRJP has a staff of nine (five full-time, two at 30 hours, and two full-time AmeriCorps workers). A balanced partnership between community and government resources has allowed BCRJP to grow over the years. As a non-profit agency, BCRJP is a gateway to community involvement when it comes to resolution processes for crimes and conflicts. In turn, this mobilization of community-generated resources through coordinated volunteerism has saved the county money and has relieved government agencies of additional work.
Another example of this partnership model is Restorative Justice Nova Scotia (NSRJ), also in its twelfth year, which is now showing “promising results in schools and communities through a vibrant partnership between government and the community” (Shafer, 2011). Jennifer Llewellyn, Director of the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Community University Research Alliance (NSRJ-CURA), explains that an integrated approach to all youth crime requires a collaborative approach in which government resources can sustain a network of community-based agencies. “This model is one of the core strengths of the success of our program,” according to Llewellyn (Shafer, 2011).
The foundation of this model is a positive, collaborative relationship between community stakeholders and government stakeholders. Building this relationship is a requirement for success. The remainder of this article will 1) provide an overview of BCRJP’s programming to show how its internal menu of comprehensive services enriches the county’s broader continuum of comprehensive services, and 2) demonstrate how BCRJP programming yields many outcome-based benefits that reinforce its ongoing partnership with government agencies, including schools. Finally, the effectiveness of restorative models will be viewed in sympathetic relation to the recommended evidence-based programming presented in the recent Georgetown University study of effective juvenile justice programs (Lipsey et al., 2010).
Overview of BCRJP Programming
Even in the agency’s early years, BCRJP developed a variety of programming as a strategic way to emphasize BCRJP’s value to the county. The agency was also able to show its capacity to handle both minor and major offenses. While promoting front-end prevention work in the schools through restorative discipline trainings (in 1999) and receiving diversion-level cases for first-time teen offenders through the Restorative Teen Court (which started in 2001), BCRJP was developing its Victim Impact Panel for adult offenders with drunk driving offenses. BCRJP created this Victim Impact Panel in conjunction with Victim-Offender Community Conferencing for adult offenders due to the interest of family members of a victim in a vehicular homicide case in 2001.
As the 2000-2010 decade unfolded, BCRJP, under the leadership of Polly Wolner, was responsive to areas of need highlighted by the courts, corrections, social services, and schools. BCRJP consistently introduced new programming in full collaboration with leaders in these agencies. Victim-Offender Community Conferencing, for example, began in collaboration with stakeholders at the Department of Corrections in Barron County, handling adult offender cases before referral processes were developed for juvenile offenders through the Barron County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The Restorative Truancy Prevention Initiative, beginning in 2003, developed in partnership with school districts and the DHHS. This initiative resulted in a unique program in which BCRJP staff (Community Outreach Workers mentoring students) could also serve as needed liaisons between families of truant students, schools, and social services. Consequently, the resolution work associated with restorative justice has uniquely blended with the therapeutic/family work associated with social workers, allowing root causes (and not just incidents) to be more effectively addressed. While keeping students in school longer, a key goal of this initiative has been to keep them out of formal court processes.
Another significant development during these formative years was the incorporation of new workshops to deepen the learning (and thus responsibility) of offenders. These include an 8-hour workshop for underage drinkers, a 2-hour Teen-Parent Communications workshop, and a 2-hour Anger Management workshop. In January 2010, BCRJP launched the 16-hour Cognitive Group Intervention course for 13-to-17-year-old chronic offenders. Forthcoming in 2011 is SHIFT, an 8-hour workshop for teen drug users spread over four sessions in a single month. (Significantly, this program was seeded, developed, and launched within a 10-month period, demonstrating BCRJP’s adeptness in responding to new situations and needs.) Some BCRJP workshops are stand-alone referrals, while others are sanctions of the Restorative Teen Court. This educational work, by supplementing the resolution work of restorative justice, is a way for members of the county to see how BCRJP aims to change offenders’ behavior by first changing their thinking. And BCRJP’s fundamental premise is, if you do not change the thinking, you will not change the behavior.
A review of programs operative in 2010 shows the scope of current interventions that comprise approximately 85% of BCRJP programming (see Figure 1). This figure reflects the primary program areas of BCRJP. BCRJP added Cognitive Group Intervention courses for chronic offenders (CHOICES for youth; THINK for adults) in 2010. These eight 2-hour group sessions explore the thinking patterns of offenders that justify negative behaviors, giving participants the tools and inner resources to self-monitor their future impulses toward negative activities. Traffic Violator and Shoplifter Conferencing allow teens to hear from police officers and retail managers about the impact of their choices on the community, and thereafter comply with pre-set sanctions that include community service, essay writing, and apology letters.
Figure 1 Restorative Justice Average Number Served Per Year 2006-2010
All BCRJP programming could be placed on a continuum of services ranging from prevention to intervention; however, constructing such a continuum accurately would not be either easy or neat. This is because all referrals to various programs involve a response to an actual incident or circumstance, and because all BCRJP interventions use prevention-intensive strategies to positively influence a client’s future. What can be charted on a continuum of low-to-high interventions is the point of entry at which youth can be referred to any BCRJP program or workshop. Starting at the low end, these services and referral points would rank as follows:
- Restorative Discipline training for school staff (for training in handling situations internally);
- Restorative Conferencing for school-referred misconduct and pre-charge crimes;
- Truancy Prevention referrals from schools resulting in mentoring and conferencing prior to court involvement;
- Diversion cases referred by the police and sheriff;
- Municipal Court referrals for various violations;
- Juvenile referrals from social workers (DHHS); and
- Circuit Court referrals as a condition of a sentence.
By way of illustration, if a 17-year-old has a drinking violation, depending on the circumstances, he or she could be referred to the KnoW Alcohol workshop at any point along this continuum from number 2 to number7.
Not included in Figure 1 are the following services offered by BCRJP, comprising the remaining 15% of its programming with respect to client numbers and/or time. The first four services listed all have elements that are purely preventive in nature:
- Victim Impact Panels for adult offenders with drinking/driving violations (average 500 per year from multiple counties) and driver education students sent by school districts;
- Restorative Practices/Circles Trainings for school staff, providing school discipline resources to help keep students in school;
- RE-Group Clubs in high schools (engaging issues of RE-spect, RE-pair, etc.);
- Somali Community Support Services (Response Team and Prevention Team)
- Teen-Parent Communication Workshop
- Anger Management Workshop;
- Community service projects;
- NOT (No Tobacco, a tobacco cessation program); and
- SHIFT: a drug-use prevention workshop for teens.
While emphasizing the benefits of receiving referrals sooner rather than later (as described in the next section), BCJRP has maintained referral ties at all levels of the county’s continuum of services. This has allowed referral sources to play an active role in determining whether restorative justice could add a greater dimension, in terms of learning, to a particular case. Actively involving referral sources breaks down the false but common perception that restorative justice is suitable only for first-time youth offenders or offenders who get “a favor” from lawyers or justice workers. To the contrary, BCRJP has established itself as effectively holding offenders accountable in meaningful ways that largely satisfy victims. Over the years, BCRJP has been known for its availability to handle complex cases at most levels of crime, assuming the offender expresses full ownership. Types of cases referred to Victim-Offender Community Conferencing include a wide range of offenses, as represented by charges referred in 2009 (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: 2009 Charges for Victim-Offender Community Conferences (Youth and Adult Offenders)
|Criminal damage to property||18|
|Defamation of a teacher||1|
|Disorderly conduct (50% non-criminal fighting cases)||75|
|Injury by use of vehicle while intoxicated||1|
|Misuse of 911||1|
|Negligent handling of burning materials||1|
|Obstructing an officer||1|
|Operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent||1|
|Being party to a crime||1|
For Victim-Offender Community Conferencing at BCRJP (83% juvenile offenders, 17% adult offenders), the same intake model and joint meeting work with parties (described below) takes place with front-end cases from schools and police, mid-range cases from municipal youth courts and DHHS, and back-end cases from circuit courts and departments of corrections. Figure 3, showing the various referral sources for Victim-Offender Community Conferencing, indicates the majority of referrals take place in the early stages, before formal court processes are involved. BCRJP has its own internal screening processes at the intake stage; when the screening process reveals an offender is unsuitable for conferencing, BCRJP returns the case to the referring agency. Given BCRJP’s flexibility to tailor the process to the particular needs of the offender and victims, however, it is rare that the agency sends cases back, especially because Victim-Offender Community Conferencing includes community members as surrogate victims in all cases in which victims choose to not sit in on resolution meetings with offenders.
Figure 3: BCRJP Victim Offender/Community Conferencing Average Referral Source Numbers 2006–2010
In past years, as with many new restorative justice programs, BCRJP held conferences when victims chose to participate. Currently, victims have more choices, including the Victim Shuttle option, in which a victim takes part through non-face-to-face communications; in all cases in which a victim is not present, community members sit in on resolution conferences to ensure full dialogue on impacts and reparations. In this framework, no offender’s case is ever returned for contingencies related to other participants. The most important feature of conferencing is pre-conference meetings to separately prepare offenders and victims before joint meetings. These essential intake processes build trust with facilitators and lead to constructive dialogue, resulting in greater victim satisfaction and offender motivation. Written and signed reparation agreements are standard practice, and BCRJP tracks all conditions of agreement. Completion statistics for BCRJP juvenile offenders are comparable to those of juvenile offenders who, from 2000 to 2008, went through Victim-Offender Community Conferencing at Community Mediation Services, a non-profit agency serving Lane County, Oregon. Of all offenders who had final conferencing and signed consensual agreements, approximately 85% fulfilled all conditions, 10% fulfilled more than one-half of the conditions, and 5% were unsuccessful in fulfilling their conditions (Lewis, 2008). These conditions included monetary restitution and community service work.
Through the conferencing program, BCRJP serves approximately 300 victims and other impacted persons annually, viewing them as clients of the justice process no less than offenders. BCRJP aspires to eventually have a victim support program that works in concert with Victim Service workers, and can even assist victims of crimes with no identified offenders. Altogether, every BCRJP program listed above includes some component of building empathy for how other people are impacted by crimes and misconduct. This is a primary way that restorative principles thread through all BCRJP programming. Wherever possible, BCRJP supports and engages victims and impacted communities so they have choices about their involvement and voices in the resolution process. If they are not involved (such as in substance abuse and traffic cases), BCRJP supports offenders and violators so they can learn how their actions have had or can have negative ripple effects far beyond their awareness. BCRJP considers empathy a key competency for offenders and believes that offenders’ self-reflection, and reflection on the impact of their actions on others, is needed to motivate them to take the reparation stage seriously. Building empathy promises self-sustaining behavioral change, the chief goal of all effective interventions for youth offenders.
Benefits of BCRJP Programming that Strengthens the Community-Government Partnership Model
There are multiple benefits from BCRJP programming, and many of these cannot be easily quantified. It has been said in a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted (Cameron 1963).” Dignifying victims through a long, hard journey, building cultures of respect, raising trust levels between people who would otherwise stay apart, mobilizing volunteerism, helping offenders move beyond their own protectiveness—all of these and more represent benefits that create healthier communities. At the same time, any restorative process can have unintended consequences in which parties are not satisfied or amends are not completed; a good restorative agency will responsibly address every negative consequence that falls short of its declared mission through proactive follow-up communications and supports.
At least four areas of benefit, however, reveal quantifiable outcome data. These areas, as they apply to BCRJP’s work in Barron County, are:
- Lower crime and recidivism rates;
- Reduced higher-level interventions;
- Cost savings; and
- Reintegration of youth offenders into the community.
A review of these areas will illustrate how BCRJP’s partnership with government-based agencies and schools within Barron County has been strengthened over the years of its operation and has been vital for BCRJP’s sustainability.
Based on statistical information from the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (OJA), a 2007 study, published in 2009, compared Barron County’s juvenile crime and arrest rates with those of 12 other counties of similar size, as well as with all Wisconsin counties combined (Kasper, 2007; Hoeft & Kasper, 2009) (see Figure 4). Researchers noted the correspondence between the start of BCRJP in 1999 and the subsequent drop in arrest rates in Barron County, then compared this with arrest rates in other Wisconsin counties:
“Clearly, the juvenile arrest rate in Barron County has dropped compared to the late 1990s. Furthermore, this rate has decreased at a pace faster than the other 71 counties combined in Wisconsin. The average juvenile arrest rate in Barron County from 2000 through 2007 was 30.0% lower than over the period of 1995 through 1999, dropping from an average arrest rate of 68.3 to 47.8. In the rest of Wisconsin, the juvenile arrest rate was only 19.2% lower during 2000 through 2007 than it was during 1995 through 1999, dropping from an average of 104.5 to 84.4.” (Hoeft & Kasper, 2009, p.14).
Figure 4: Total Juvenile Arrest Rate (for Wisconsin and Barron Co.)
To summarize, while the juvenile arrest rate was increasing in Barron County in the late 1990s at a greater rate than the rest of Wisconsin, the arrest rate in Barron County after 2000-2001 dropped to a greater degree than the arrest rate statewide. “This drop in the crime rate occurred during a time when juvenile populations in Barron County and the rest of the state decreased by the same small percentage” (Hoeft & Kasper, 2009, p. 17). These researchers also compared Barron County’s arrest rates with those of 12 other Wisconsin counties of similar size (with populations approximately 20% of Barron County’s population), noting a stark contrast. “Barron County’s juvenile arrests for non-index and status offenses were substantially lower than in comparable Wisconsin counties. This makes sense, as many of the offenses dealt with by BCRJP involve non-index and status offenses” (Hoeft & Kasper, 2009, p. 12). On the basis of these data, coupled with case narratives of representative property offenses, the authors concluded that “BCRJP was a major factor behind the substantial decrease in juvenile crime in Barron County. As our case studies demonstrate, restorative justice, particularly VOC (Victim-Offender Community Conferencing), has a powerful impact on all participants and helps make communities whole again. In none of our cases was there a re-offense” (Hoeft & Kasper, 2009, p. 17).
With respect to the temporary spike in Barron County trends for 2000-2001, it should be noted that in the first two years of operation, BCRJP handled primarily adult offender cases compared with youth offender cases in its conferencing program. In addition, the Restorative Teen Court started in 2001; thereafter, the number of youth offender cases increased significantly. In brief, the dramatic post-2001 drop in the arrest rate fits well with the period in which youth offenders were the primary population served, and, in the main, were not re-offending.
The referral partnership with law enforcement has allowed BCJRP to receive greater numbers of cases at a diversionary level before they ever reach juvenile intake divisions or courts. Within a four-year period of handling 150 juvenile cases sent to BCRJP by the Rice Lake Police Department, Captain Mike Nelson had this to say with respect to recidivism: “In reviewing our cases forwarded to Barron County Restorative Justice Program between the years 2007 through 2010, it appears that less than approximately 10% of the referrals indicate repeat offenses” (Mike Nelson, personal communication, January 2011). These cases cover a range of crimes including property crimes, disorderly conduct, and substance abuse, as well as ordinance violations. Appropriate cases are referred to Rice Lake Municipal Court, and current Municipal Judge Kasper stated that “BCRJP’s staff and volunteers have been invaluable resources for our communities, particularly when it comes to lowering juvenile recidivism rates; through programs such as KnoW ALCOHOL and Youth Educational Shoplifting, BCRJP has helped to lessen the amount of underage drinking and youth shoplifting in our area” (Lewis, 2011).
The second area of benefit reveals how BCRJP’s preference for earlier intervention has reduced higher-level interventions in Barron County. According to Terry Holmstrom, Youth and Family Manager at Barron County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), “Since 2005 Barron County has noticed a reduction in delinquency cases due to the cases being handled by Barron County Restorative Justice Programs prior to the juvenile entering the county system” (Terry Holmstrom, personal communication, January 18, 2011). In addition to receiving “prior” cases from schools and police, a significant prevention plan has been to provide BCRJP services to truant students whose life circumstances can often be a factor in subsequent delinquency. Commenting on the three-way partnership of schools, social services, and BCRJP that formed around truancy prevention work, Judy Demers, Director of Barron County’s DHHS, wrote that the Restorative Truancy Prevention Program “has proven to be an effective method to prevent youth and their families from becoming involved in the Child Protection and Juvenile Justice systems by connecting them to local resources before their situations escalate. This early intervention has facilitated the ability of families to stay together with the help of supportive services and has reduced the need to place children out of home” (Lewis, 2011). A three-year study conducted by the DHHS from 2006-2008 showed that of 318 students served by BCRJP’s program, only 45 (or 14%) were identified as being referred to juvenile justice services under the DHHS for subsequent interventions or court processes (Lewis, 2010a).
District Administrator Randal Braun wrote how the School District of Cameron has “benefited not only by the way students are kept in school more, but by the way the liaison work of our Community Outreach Worker has saved our county valuable time and money. It is gratifying to look at our current graduating class and see several students who will be walking across the stage to receive their diplomas in June. I know that without the Truancy Initiative it is likely that they would have dropped out of high school” (Randal Braun, personal communication, January 2011). Presiding Circuit Court Judge James C. Babler, acknowledging how difficult it is for higher courts to effectively address the root causes of truancy, wrote about how BCRJP’s truancy program “has been a true benefit to our county [as it has] helped to keep children in the elementary, middle, and high schools and out of the formal juvenile system” (Judge James Babler, personal communication, January 2011).
Parallel to this work has been BCRJP’s effort to support restorative practices that reduce the utilization of suspensions and expulsions. Barron High School Principal Kirk Haugestuen stated, “Since the inception many years ago with Restorative Justice of Barron County, our school has been transformed from a reactive educational setting to a relationship-centered, positive and proactive culture on campus, allowing professionals to focus on curriculum, instruction, and learning” (Lewis, 2011). Haugestuen, presiding since 1992, describes how in the zero tolerance period of the late 1990s, there were 18 expulsions in 1996-97 and 14 expulsions in 1997-98. Restorative practices were launched in 1999, and from 2002 to 2010 there has only been one expulsion (Kirk Haugestuen, personal communication, January 26, 2011).
At every rung on the ladder of interventions, BCRJP has a way of preventing higher-up casework. At the low end, BCRJP equips school staff with resources for addressing misconduct with restorative practices and circle processes. If a teacher uses an effective measure, it keeps a principal out of it; if a school principal sends a case to BCRJP, it keeps the police out of it; if police send a case, it keeps a juvenile justice worker or the municipal court out of it; if a juvenile justice worker or municipal court sends a case, it frees them up to focus on higher-level work. And if, in fact, a case does require formal handling at a district attorney and circuit court level, BCRJP still receives referrals to provide victim participation and offender reparation. And some cases, due to a victim’s readiness years later, are handled neither in lieu of sentencing nor as conditions of sentencing, but on post-sentencing terms because the time is right for a healing dialogue. The main point, though, is that BCRJP’s preference for handling cases earlier rather than later results in significant case-load relief to government agencies, which allows them to do their work with less pressure.
Third, the cost savings to Barron County has been a key factor in BCRJP’s sustainability. A cost-analysis done by BCRJP in May 2010 revealed that the average cost to handle one offender case (averaging one to three months of casework) comes to $378 (Lewis, 2010a). This figure was based on a total population of 846 juvenile and adult offenders served, including a 10% segment of offenders from the Victim Impact Panel. A more current estimate takes the average 650 offenders served from the Programs Chart in Figure 1 (which accounts for approximately 85% of BCRJP programming) and, dividing it into 85% of BCRJPs average annual budget of $300,000, the cost per offender comes to $392. In light of the higher costs of supervision and detention, County Administrator Jeffery French made this written statement: “Barron County Restorative Justice is a place where victims receive a voice, offenders accept responsibility, and where success is not measured in dollars spent but rather in dollars not spent” (Lewis, 2011a).
The provision of services through the coordinating efforts of a non-profit staff is itself one way for monies to be saved, but the monetary value of volunteerism cannot be overlooked. In 2010, some 150 volunteers provided 3507 hours, with approximately 1500 of those hours provided by youth in the context of the Restorative Teen Court; 2007 hours were donated by adults. Not included in these numbers are volunteers who participated in trainings, school club meetings, and presentations. Translating this hour-power into a monetary asset would range from $25,426 (at the $7.25 minimum wage level) to $61,372 (at the $17.50 per hour federal level). Averaging this to a $10 per hour level, this $35,000 asset to Barron County speaks loudly to the way a community-based program can leverage maximal community resources at minimal expense to the county. In summary, BCRJP’s capacity to provide low-cost interventions out of its non-profit, volunteer-based operation has allowed it, in part, to be highly valued in Barron County.
The final area of benefit that shows positive outcome data speaks to the very reason why BCRJP interventions are effective with youth offenders. Successful reintegration of youth offenders into the community is illustrated by their outcomes in moving through the Restorative Teen Court process. On average, 92% fully complete their sanctions, which include complying with peer jury duty two to four times, in addition to sanctions such as attending workshops, performing community service, and the like. Even after these sanctions and jury duty requirements have been fulfilled, the program has benefited from the fact that nearly one-half of all offenders in previous years, and 60% of those in 2010, chose to stay on as Restorative Teen Court volunteers in some capacity (see Figure 5).
Figure 5: BCRJP Teen Court Offenders Who Volunteered with Teen Court After Sanctioned Jury Duties
In some cases, these youth offenders have grown into positions of leadership. One can see how a restorative process provides a context not only for a teen to take full responsibility for negative actions of the past, but a greater responsibility for positive actions in the future. This is where Restorative Teen Court has been adapted from conventional Teen or Youth Court models. The emphasis is not on youth learning how conventional court processes work, but rather how the three restorative building blocks of Ownership, Empathy and Reparation, within a setting that gives high support without compromising high accountability, can effectively bring about major life changes to set youth walking down better paths. By helping peer offenders go through a process of learning, awakening, and taking charge of their lives, each Restorative Teen Court youth repeatedly reinforces for himself or herself positive messages that replace the negative thinking patterns that initially led them into delinquent activity. In a profound way, youth end up helping themselves precisely because they are committed to a framework that is all about helping others.
Central to all restorative interventions is the concept of helping offenders to understand their actions in the broader context of relationships. Given our societal orientation to individualism, in addition to our utilitarian bent toward fixing things, there is always a temptation in modern culture to move quickly from ownership to reparation (see Figure 6, Box A). But a restorative approach takes the longer route through empathy; that is, through an opportunity for offenders to hear and understand how their actions have affected people beyond themselves (see Figure 6, Box B.) This is where the real learning happens. And when the learning is heightened, it heightens the taking of responsibility not just for past actions but for future actions. In this way, the ‘long route’ ensures a richer reparation due to the fact that an offender has greater internal motivation for making amends to those affected and taking steps to overcome the impulse to re-offend.
Figure 6: The Short and Long Routes to Reparation
The bottom line is this: If youth do not learn something new and then internalize the learning, they are apt to repeat negative behaviors. Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald stated, “Restorative justice is a great tool that allows law enforcement to give juvenile offenders a chance to realize their mistakes and learn from them, instead of just paying a fine” (Chris Fitzgerald, personal communication, January 14, 2011). Such realizing and learning is vital to fostering a young person’s ability to make more responsible choices in the future.
The perennial question, however, is “What best fosters such learning?” There is, of course, the conventional thinking that accompanies the sting of the belt: “That’ll learn ya.” But there are other ways to learn from misdeeds that might prove to be better for the community and the offender in the long run. An article published by The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, based on a meta-analysis of 548 studies dating back to 1958, supports the effectiveness of evidence-based programs that promote “self-sustaining behavioral change” in contrast to programs that rely on external control techniques and punitive measures, which in some cases were found to be detrimental (Lipsey et al., 2010). Included in their category of treatment programs recognized for cost-savings and lower recidivism rates is “victim-offender mediation” and “cognitive behavioral therapy,” both of which are central to BCJRP. Along with skill-building and counseling-based models, they equally recognize a “restorative” category for effecting “behavior change by facilitating personal development through improved skills, relationships, insight, and the like” (Lipsey et al., 2010, p. 24). At the heart of BCRJP’s effort is the commitment to help socialize offenders through learning opportunities, building empathy as a competency for future decision-making, and emphasizing relationships as a framework for future accountability, all of which serve to prevent re-offending. Out of this study came the recommendation for justice systems “to provide an array of effective programs that provides sufficient diversity to allow matching with offenders’ needs” (Lipsey et al., 2010, p. 5).
It has been shown above that BCRJP’s own effort to provide comprehensive services allows for a flexible framework for matching the needs of offenders with the right BCRJP programs. But there is a second dimension that ties into the justice system: Through BCRJP’s restorative work, the broader continuum of programming throughout Barron County is rich and plentiful. As Youth and Family Program Manager Terry Holmstrom has written, “Barron County Department of Health and Human Services has various programs to assist juveniles, along with a plethora of Barron County restorative justice programs, in matching juveniles’ needs. In collaborating with restorative justice, we have been highly effective in meeting the needs of juveniles through this array of complimentary services” (Terry Holmstrom, personal communication, January 18, 2011).
In conclusion, the programming of BCRJP within the context of working closely with Barron County justice agencies and schools has yielded multiple benefits which, over the past decade, have strengthened a sustainable and symbiotic partnership. This article has attempted to document the foundations for that partnership, the scope of restorative programming, and the benefits of that programming for the Barron County experience. The key stakeholders within Barron County have supported the blending of government and community resources because they have recognized the distinctive strengths of each side while being realistic about each side’s limitations. The hope is that more research and writing can be done to not only substantiate the effectiveness of restorative justice programming, but specifically to substantiate how a community-based restorative justice agency can provide an ideal nexus for government and community resources in ways that are cost-effective and outcome-effective. This restoration of community involvement, as demonstrated in Barron County, Wisconsin, can affirm a much older tradition in which community members had a larger stake in both the means and the ends for resolving conflicts and crimes.
About the Author
Ted Gordon Lewis, M.A., is the Executive Director of the Barron County Restorative Justice Programs.
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Additional Literature for Restorative Justice
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