Restorative Justice: New Horizons in Juvenile Offender Counseling

By Ryals, John S., Jr. | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Restorative Justice: New Horizons in Juvenile Offender Counseling


Ryals, John S., Jr., Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


Treatment strategies of the juvenile justice system focus singularly on rehabilitation of offenders, and victims and communities are excluded from the rehabilitative process. Restorative justice views victims and communities as essential components in rehabilitative efforts. Implications for juvenile offender counselors are discussed.

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Within the past 2 decades, the topic of juvenile offenders has received increasing attention. From school shootings to delinquent youth gangs, concern about the treatment of juvenile offenders is growing. Governmental resources have been aimed at mentoring programs (U.S. Department of Justice, 2002b), drug education (U.S. Department of Justice, 2002a), gang prevention (Starbuck, Howell, & Lindquist, 2002), and various other target areas such as assessment of juvenile offenders and early intervention. State and local governments are providing millions of dollars to combat juvenile delinquency. Despite all these efforts, recidivism has been minimally affected by community programming (Siegel & Senna, 2000).

A common misconception is that rehabilitative efforts should focus solely on the offender. Juvenile courts, probation officers, and law enforcement officers use retributive sanctions to hold juvenile offenders accountable. The juvenile justice system looks toward treatment providers and offender-focused interventions to prevent further delinquent behaviors. As a result, treatment providers are tasked with providing an array of therapeutic services aimed solely at the rehabilitation of the juvenile offender.

Current treatment for juvenile offenders involves various interventions focused on individual and environmental influences of offenders. Juvenile offenders are processed through screenings and assessments ranging from psychological evaluations to substance abuse screens. Programs have been developed to enhance cognitive skills (Ross, Fabiano, & Diemer-Ewles, 1986), build moral development (Little & Robinson, 1988), enhance motivation for change (Miller, Zweben, DiClemente, & Rychtarik, 1994), and have an impact on environmental influences (Henggeler & Borduin, 1990). Regardless of demonstrated reductions in recidivism, these programs focus solely on offenders' problems and deficits.

Despite the documented success of these treatment programs with juvenile offenders, delinquency affects more than just the offender. The shortcoming of juvenile justice systems is that the needs of both victims and communities remain unaddressed (Bazemore & Umbreit, 1997). Criminal activity involves three components: the offender, the victim, and the community. Treatment aimed solely at the offender, regardless of how successful, does not alleviate the impact of crime on victims and communities. Acts of criminal activity induce a state of imbalance in victims' lives and within communities. Lives are changed, and communities become scarred.

An alternative to the current philosophy of the juvenile justice system is restorative justice. Restorative justice is not a program, but a philosophy. It is a philosophy based on restoring balance to victims' lives, communities, and offenders. In this article, I discuss the principles and practices of restorative justice, the parallel constructs between restorative justice and counseling philosophy, and implications for juvenile offender counselors.

What Is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice in the United States began with the pioneering works of Howard Zehr (Marshall, 1998). In two seminal works, Zehr presented restorative justice as an alternative to current criminal justice paradigms. The movement gained momentum through the prolific efforts of Mark Umbreit and the University of Minnesota. Umbreit has published numerous articles on the application of Restorative justice practices in criminal justice (e.g., Umbreit & Burns, 2002; Umbreit & Coates, 1998; Umbreit & Fercello, 1997). …

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