Juvenile offenders often blame the system and are usually unaware of the impact their actions make on their victims. Most juvenile offenders do not get to see the hurt, fear, and/or anger that their actions can cause for victims. Victim-offender mediation, a component of restorative justice, has been a valuable tool for rehabilitating juvenile offenders since the late 1970s. Victim- offender mediation brings crime victims and offenders together to reach agreements for restitution and community healing.
Resolutions Northwest, a non-profit organization in Multnomah County, offers a victim-offender mediation program to juvenile offenders and their victims. Victim-offender mediation begins when a case is referred to Resolutions Northwest by the criminal justice system, a community agency, parents or other individuals. Cases are screened and the victims and offenders are contacted about the mediation process. At the mediation session, the victim, the offender and two professionally trained mediators (many of whom are volunteers) meet to discuss the crime. Victims and offenders work toward developing empathy and understanding as they negotiate agreements to resolve the incident. Resolutions Northwest maintains contact with the victims and offenders until the terms of the contract have been fulfilled.
Primary Research Question
Do juvenile offenders who participate in Resolutions Northwest's victim-offender mediation program have a lower recidivism rate than youths who go through the traditional justice system?
Research was conducted from 1996 to 1999 and used 455 completed victim-offender Resolutions Northwest mediation records. Records involved juveniles 17 years of age and younger. The juveniles were categorized into one of two groups: Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative group (traditional justice system) or Resolution Northwest (participated in the program). The research investigated as to whether the juveniles in both groups reoffended a second, third or fourth time within a one-year period. Research provided a comparison of outcomes that examined whether or not juvenile offenders had a lower recidivism rate than youths.
There are too many other factors involved in the evaluation of a program to use recidivism alone to weigh success. The possibility does exist that the juvenile offenders who are referred to Resolutions Northwest have only been referred because it was believed that they had a greater chance of avoiding recidivism in the first place.
41.6% of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative group reoffended within one year of their original arrest. In comparison, only 20.3% of the Resolutions Northwest group reoffended within a year of the completion of their victim-offender mediation program. The explorations into second, third and fourth re-offenses yielded similar results in that the juveniles from Resolutions Northwest had significantly lower recidivism rates compared to those from the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative group. There are a significantly higher number of juvenile offenders who do not reoffend within the first year after completion of Resolutions Northwest's victim-offender mediation program.
Resolution Northwest's victim-offender mediation program is highly beneficial to the rehabilitative process of the juvenile offenders who participate in it.