Program

Sep 06, 2011

OVERVIEW

Family group
conferencing is a form of restorative justice designed as an alternative (and
complement) to traditional court practices that focus on punishment. Targeted
at youth and adult offenders who have committed a variety of crimes, ranging
from petty theft to assault and attempted murder, these conferences aim to
decrease the chances of re-offending. Conferences are constructed around
bringing the offender and victim together, along with a trained facilitator and
supporters of both individuals, to engage in a discussion about the incident
that occurred and the harm that was brought upon the victim and all supporters.
Along with determining how the offender can make amends for their actions,
conferences help build a more personal sense of accountability and community,
thus hopefully reducing the likelihood of re-offending. A random assignment
evaluation of the program with first-time adolescent offenders found that, over
the 24-month follow-up period, a larger percentage of the family conferencing
group were not re-arrested, compared with the control group, but this difference
was not statistically significant. Regression analyses also found that there
was no overall statistically significant relationship between group assignment
and time until re-offending; however, the treatment group was significantly less
likely to re-offend during weeks 13-26 and had a 23 percent lower number of
re-arrests.

DESCRIPTION OF
PROGRAM

Target
Population:
Juvenile and young adult offenders

The intervention is
a restorative justice practice that occurs after the offender has admitted to
responsibility for his or her actions. Both the offender and the victim, along
with supporters (e.g., family members) of both parties involved, are brought
together to engage in a discussion, moderated by a trained facilitator. Through
the conference, the victim is able to ask questions of the offender and describe
the harm they experienced. Similarly, supporters of both sides may explain how
the offender’s actions have affected them. All participants must then come to a
reparation agreement, thereby determining how the offender will compensate the
victim.

EVALUATION(S) OF
PROGRAM

Evaluated
population:
A total of 782 youth offenders in Indianapolis were selected for
participation in this study. In order to be eligible for participation,
offenders were required to be 14 years of age or younger, be first-time
offenders, admit to committing the offense that resulted in their arrest, and
have committed battery, shoplifting, criminal mischief, theft, or disorderly
conduct. There was a higher proportion of non-white participants in the control
group (64%) than in the treatment group (57%), although this difference was not
significant. However, the difference in average age between the treatment
(12.49) and control (12.71) groups was significantly different. On all other
background characteristics, such as gender (both groups had higher proportions
of males than females), arresting agency, and initial arrest type, the groups
were comparable. Age, gender, race, and offense type were controlled on
multivariate analyses.

Approach:
Qualifying offenders were randomly assigned to either the intervention (Family
Group Conferencing, N=400) or the control group (N=382). The treatment lasted
less than one hour, with follow-up actions to fulfill the reparation agreement.
Participants assigned to the control group were placed into court-ordered
diversion programs other than FGC, by an intake officer. While these programs
varied, the majority of these youth participated in one of four programs (Teen
Court, Shoplifting program, Community Service, or Victim-Offender Mediation).

To measure the
effectiveness of the intervention, time until re-offending was the primary
outcome of interest. Over the course of a 24-month follow-up period beginning
on the day of their qualifying initial arrest, participants were checked-on
weekly to determine the number of participants that were at risk of re-offending
at the beginning of the week, the number who had re-offended that week, and the
number whose follow-up period came to an end that week. This information was
used to determine the risk of re-offending for each week (another outcome of
interest).

Results:
While a larger proportion of the intervention group (52 percent) compared with
the control group (46 percent) did not re-offend at all during the 24-month
follow-up period, this difference was not statistically significant when
controls for age, gender, race, and offense type were included. However,
analyses did find a statistically significant difference at weeks 13-26, though
not during weeks 27-52. Also, the number of re-arrests was found to be 23
percent lower for the treatment group. Regression analyses also demonstrated
that there was no significant relationship between group assignment and the risk
of re-offending.

SOURCES FOR MORE
INFORMATION

References

McGarrell, E.F. &
Hipple, N.K. (2007). Family group conferencing and re-offending among first-time
juvenile offenders: The Indianapolis experiment. Justice Quarterly,
24(2), 221-246

KEYWORDS:
Adolescents, Youth, Young Adults, Males and Females (Co-ed), Juvenile Offenders,
Community-Based, Parent or Family Component, Delinquency

Program
information last updated 9/6/11