Balanced and Restorative Justice Practice: Accountability

The BARJ Model defines accountability as taking responsibility for your behavior and taking action to repair the harm. Accountability in the BARJ Model takes different forms than in the traditional juvenile justice system. Accountability in most juvenile justice systems is interpreted as punishment or adherence to a set of rules laid down by the system. However, neither being punished nor following a set of rules involves taking full responsibility for behavior or making repairs for the harm caused. Punishment and adherence to rules do not facilitate moral development at a level that is achieved by taking full responsibility for behavior.

Taking full responsibility for behavior requires:

  • Understanding how that behavior affected other human beings (not just the courts or officials).

  • Acknowledging that the behavior resulted from a choice that could have been made differently.

  • Acknowledging to all affected that the behavior was harmful to others.

  • Taking action to repair the harm where possible.

  • Making changes necessary to avoid such behavior in the future.

In the BARJ Model, accountability goals are often met through the process itself as much as through actions decided by the process. To be accountable for behavior is to answer to individuals who are affected by the behavior. Face-to-face meetings with community members or victims in which an offender takes responsibility and hears about the impact on others constitute significant forms of accountability.

To fully acknowledge responsibility for harm to others is a painful experience. It is, however, a process that opens up the opportunity for personal growth that may reduce the likelihood of repeating the harmful behavior. It is difficult to accept full responsibility for harming others without a support system in place and a sense that there will be an opportunity to gain acceptance in the community. Therefore, accountability and support must go hand in hand.

Support without accountability leads to moral weakness. Accountability without support is a form of cruelty.

-- Stan Basler
Oklahoma Conference of Churches

Characteristics of Restorative Accountability Strategies

Strategies that lead to restorative accountability goals:

  • Focus on repair of harm to the victim.

  • Provide a process for making amends to the community.

  • Provide a process for greater understanding of how the incident affected others.

  • Offer a meaningful way for the juvenile to take responsibility for the actions.

  • Encourage apology or expressions of remorse.

  • Involve the victim and the community in determining the accountability measures.

Restorative Accountability Practice Definitions

  • Victim-Offender Mediation and Dialogue. Victim-offender mediation/dialogue is a process that provides interested victims of property crimes and minor assaults with the opportunity to meet the juvenile offender in a safe and structured setting. The goal of victim-offender mediation is to hold the juvenile offender directly accountable for his or her behavior while providing important assistance to the victim.

    With the help of a trained mediator (usually a community volunteer), the victim is able to tell the juvenile offender how the crime affected him or her, to receive answers to questions, and to be directly involved in developing a restitution plan.

    The juvenile offender is able to take direct responsibility for his or her behavior, to learn of the full impact of the behavior, and to develop a plan for making amends to those violated. Cases can be referred both pre- and postadjudication.

    A written restitution agreement or plan is usually generated during the mediation but is secondary to discussion of the full impact of the crime on those affected, often in the presence of the juvenile offender's parents.

    These types of programs may be called "victim-offender meeting," "victim-offender conferencing," or "victim-offender reconciliation" programs.

  • Family Group Conferencing. Based on traditions of the Maori of New Zealand, a family group conference is a meeting of the community of people who are most affected by a crime or harmful behavior. The conferences are coordinated by trained facilitators. The victim, the juvenile offender, and the victim's and offender's families and friends participate. All have the opportunity to speak about how the crime has affected their lives. Other affected community members may also be involved. The purpose of the meeting is to decide, as a group, how the harm will be repaired by the offender. The meeting may occur before or after sentencing or as an alternative to going through the traditional juvenile justice system.

  • Peacemaking Circles. A peacemaking circle is a community-directed process, in partnership with the juvenile justice system, for developing consensus on an appropriate disposition that addresses the concerns of all interested parties. Peacemaking circles use traditional circle ritual and structure from Native-American culture. They create a respectful space in which all interested community members, victim, victim supporters, offender, offender supporters, judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, police, and court workers can speak from the heart in a shared search for understanding of the event and to identify the steps necessary to assist in healing all affected parties and prevent future occurrences.

    Circles typically involve a multistep procedure, including application by the offender to the circle process, a healing circle for the victim, a healing circle for the offender, a disposition circle to develop consensus on the elements of a disposition agreement, and followup circles to monitor progress of the offender. The disposition plan may incorporate commitments by the system, community, family members, and the offender.

  • Financial Restitution to Victims. Restitution is technically the return of goods or money stolen or the repair of damaged property. Financial restitution is an attempt to repay or restore to the victim the value of what was lost. Victims must be directly involved in determining the amount of losses.

  • Personal Services to Victims. Personal services to victims are services provided directly to victims, such as house repairs, lawnwork, and seasonal chores. Personal services can strongly reinforce personal accountability for juvenile offenders by making them responsible directly to victims. It is the victim's right to choose whether a juvenile offender will perform personal service.

  • Community Service. Community service is productive work performed by juvenile offenders that benefits communities, such as equipment repairs in parks, winterizing homes for the elderly, and other upkeep, repair, and maintenance projects. Often, community service projects enhance conditions for the less fortunate in communities.

    Restorative community service provides an opportunity for the juvenile offender to make amends to the community in a way that is valued by the community. When the community work service experience allows youth to create new, positive relationships with members of the community, the fabric of the community is strengthened. The process also works to increase the juvenile offender's investment in the community. Successful community work service helps to change the juvenile offender's negative view of the community to a positive one.

    Community members and the offender recognize the offender's capacity to contribute to the general well-being of the community. Community work service must have personal meaning to both the community and the youth performing it. The best examples are projects that use youth as mentors, resources, leaders, and interactive community members. Whenever possible, crime victims should be asked about what specific type of community service the offender should perform (i.e., their choice of a particular charity, church, or agency that is important to them).

  • Written or Verbal Apology to Victims and Other Affected Persons. An apology is a written or verbal communication to the crime victim and the community in which a juvenile offender accurately describes the behavior and accepts full responsibility for the actions.

  • Victim or Community Impact Panels. These panels are forums that offer victims and other community members the opportunity to describe their experiences with crime to juvenile offenders. Participants talk with juvenile offenders about their feelings and how the crime has affected their lives. Panels may be conducted in the community or in residential facilities and may meet several times to help offenders better understand the full human impact of crime in communities.

  • Community or Neighborhood Impact Statements. These statements drafted by community members provide an opportunity for citizens whose lives are affected by crime to inform the court, community reparative board, or offender how crimes affect the community's quality of life. Community impact statements have been used in crimes that are thought of as victimless, such as drug offenses.

  • Victim Empathy Groups or Classes. The victim empathy class is an educational program designed to teach offenders about the human consequences of crime. Offenders are taught how crime affects the victim and the victim's family, friends, and community, and how it also affects them and their own families, friends, and communities. A key element of the classes is the direct involvement of victims and victim service providers. They tell their personal stories of being victimized or of helping victims to reconstruct their lives after a traumatic crime.

Promising Programs: Accountability

  • Institute for Conflict Management; Orange, CA. The Institute for Conflict Management is sponsored by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a church-related and community-based social service agency. Prior to bringing a victim and offender together, a mediator meets separately with each party to listen to each story, explain the process, and invite participation. During the mediation session, the victim and offender discuss the crime and its impact on their lives. They devise a plan for the offender to make amends.

    This program began in 1989 as a relatively small program. Today, it represents the largest victim-offender mediation program in North America. Recently, the program received a county grant for more than $300,000 to divert more than 1,000 juvenile offenders from an overcrowded court system.

    The program provides 30 to 40 hours of classroom training for community volunteers who serve as mediators. An evaluation by Neimeyer and Shichor (1996) found that 99 percent of its mediation sessions resulted in a successfully negotiated agreement and that 96.8 percent of these agreements were successfully completed or nearing completion.

  • Juvenile Reparation Program; Center for Community Justice; Elkhart, IN. The Juvenile Reparation Program (JRP) targets older juveniles who may have previously failed in the juvenile justice system and risk continuing their negative behavior into adulthood.

    JRP staff assist the youth in developing a contract, which routinely includes accountability strategies such as restitution to the victim, volunteer service as symbolic restitution to the community, and specific self-improvement strategies. The contract may also include face-to-face mediation with the victim.

    To address community safety goals, the youth are restricted to their homes, except when attending approved activities such as school, employment, or counseling. Community volunteer telephone monitors ensure that the youth follow these rules and provide added encouragement.

  • Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) of Nashville; Nashville, TN. The Council of Community Services, an alliance of private and public social service and advocacy agencies, established VORP of Nashville in 1989 with a broad base of support from individuals, religious organizations, and the justice system to offer victim-offender mediation and alternatives to incarceration. The program has trained more than 100 volunteer mediators and offers conflict resolution classes twice per week at juvenile court that count toward community service hours for the juveniles who attend.

    As a community-based program, VORP of Nashville is committed to assisting the juvenile court in implementing the BARJ Model. Mediators are available onsite at the courts and attend the general sessions court at least once per week. Police officers and judges can refer cases directly, and juvenile offenders under age 12 are automatically referred for mediation.

    The program has two neighborhood community mediation sites, with plans to expand to other neighborhoods, thus allowing the community greater access to alternative methods of conflict resolution.

  • Victim-Offender Meetings; Victim Restoration Program; Dakota County Community Corrections; Dakota County, MN. The Victim Restoration Program of Dakota County Community Corrections provides opportunities for crime victims to meet face to face with the juvenile offenders who violated them. They can talk about the offense and its full impact and develop a plan for restoring victim losses. Community volunteers are trained in victim-offender mediation skills, with an emphasis on the use of victim-sensitive communication and procedures. Volunteers complete 35 training hours and are expected to accept 8 to 10 cases per year.

  • Crime Repair Crew; Dakota County Community Corrections; Dakota County, MN. As a form of community service to hold juvenile offenders accountable, Dakota County Community Corrections has established the Crime Repair Crew. The crew, under the direction of a trained coordinator, consists of juvenile nonviolent offenders. The crew is contacted by police, if a victim wishes, to immediately repair any damage and clean up at a property crime scene. The crew is available to respond at any time, on short notice. The crew offers juvenile offenders the opportunity to "give back" to the community while learning skills in construction and painting.

    Each job affords crew members the opportunity to learn how criminal activity impacts community residents. The program differs from existing work crew operations in that work is performed not only for government and nonprofit organizations but also for businesses and private citizens whose lives have been interrupted by criminal activity.

  • Restorative Justice Program; Youth Service Bureau; Forest Lake, MN. As part of the Restorative Justice Program, juvenile offenders appear before a panel of community volunteers, read a letter of apology, list expenses related to their offense, and hear from community members about how the crime affected the community. Victims or victim representatives may attend the panels. The program allows juveniles to take responsibility for and reflect on their actions while being held accountable to the community. For example, juvenile offenders develop a contract that includes a community service project to be completed in conjunction with their parents and family members. They attend peer personal-goal groups, write research papers on offense-related topics, and attend educational programs with their parents regarding their offense. The program is usually reserved for first-time offenders of lesser property crimes, including shoplifting, vandalism, and age-related offenses. Participants are typically 11, 12, or 13 years old.

  • Navaho Peacemaker Court; Navaho Nation (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah). In 1982, the Navaho Nation created a horizontal system of justice that promotes equality, balance, and preservation of relationships. In the Navaho tradition, disharmony exists when things are "not as they should be." The Navaho Peacemaker Court includes songs, prayers, history, and stories. A "peacemaker," generally a designated elder or other respected community member, guides the victim, offender, and support community to harmony by persuasion, not coercion. Peacemakers, who have strong values and morals that are based on Navaho teachings, act as guides to identify how harmony can be regained through community solidarity.

  • Nez Perce Peacemaker Project; Nez Perce Tribal Court; Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc.; Lewiston, ID. The Nez Perce Peacemaker Project offers tribal members a more traditional, culturally appropriate alternative to court. The project trains law students and tribal members to comediate disputes. Cases are referred by the Nez Perce Tribal Court to the project, where they are screened and the involved parties are prepared for the eventual mediation session. Tribal mediations include victims, offenders, and other family and tribal members who are affected by the conflict. Agreements to restore victim losses are mutually determined by all parties.

  • Community Justice Corps; Department of Community Justice; Deschutes County, OR. Numerous projects of the Deschutes County, OR, Department of Community Justice exemplify the idea of "community service as a resource." For example, the Community Justice Corps supervises adult and juvenile probationers and parolees who work on a variety of human service and public works projects. Through community service, adults and youth make amends to the community for their offenses while gaining valuable skills. In these projects, youth have worked with volunteer builders and carpenters to help construct a homeless shelter (after raising money for materials) and a domestic abuse crisis center. Offenders provide important long-term benefits to their community, learn about the needs of other citizens (including those victimized by violent abuse), develop skills, and have positive interactions with law-abiding adults. The corps also promotes community safety, because the offender's time during community service is occupied under adult supervision for significant portions of the day and evening.

  • Reparative Probation Program; Vermont Department of Corrections. Intended for offenders convicted of misdemeanor or nonviolent felony crimes, the Reparative Probation Program directly involves community members meeting face to face with offenders to negotiate a "reparative agreement" that specifies how offenders will make reparation to their victims and other community members.

    A judge, using an administrative probation order with the condition that the offender has no further involvement in criminal activity, sentences the offender to the Reparative Probation Program following adjudication of guilt with a suspended sentence. The offender's requirement to complete the program is also a special condition of probation.

    Following sentencing, the probation department conducts a brief intake, including information about the crime, criminal history, and the extent of damages/injuries. The offender then appears before a five or six member community reparation board in the community where the crime was committed. During the meeting, the nature of the offense, its impact, and restitution are discussed.

    The offender leaves the room while the board deliberates on the sanctions. The offender subsequently rejoins the meeting to discuss the proposed agreement. All parties agree and sign the agreement. The board may then meet with the offender from time to time to monitor progress.

    If the agreement is satisfied, the board recommends the offender's discharge from probation. If the offender fails to satisfy the agreement within the required period, he or she may be returned to the court for further action or continued supervision.

  • Travis County Neighborhood Conference Committees; Austin, TX. Neighborhood Conference Committees are community citizen panels that hear youth diversion cases and help families and youth resolve legal issues. Committee members are volunteers who live or work within a community (as defined by ZIP Code). Eligible cases include first-time offenders for residence and nonweapon misdemeanors. The committee holds separate interviews with the youth and his or her parents to gain a better understanding of the family's life and possible causes of the criminal act. The committee determines sanctions appropriate for each offense and each family situation. A contract is created that all participants sign to enable restoration of loss to the neighborhood, restitution to the victim, and reintegration and acceptance of the juvenile into the community after completion of the agreement. Participation in the process is voluntary.

  • Restorative Justice Program (Family Group Conferencing); Woodbury Police Department; Woodbury, MN. The Woodbury Police Department Restorative Justice Program is a juvenile diversion program operated by the police department that intervenes prior to prosecution/court intervention. Juvenile crimes are investigated by officers in a traditional way, that is, with cases prepared for prosecution and investigations and petition forms completed prior to restorative justice program consideration. (All cases considered for diversion in this program must be prosecutable.)

    A trained police officer screens all juvenile cases to determine if they will be diverted. Screening criteria include:

    • Seriousness of the offense.

    • Past record of the youth.

    • Attitude of the youth.

    • Attitude of the youth's parents.

    To participate in the program, offenders must admit their offenses. Each case is screened individually using the above four criteria as guides -- not as hard-and-fast rules.

    Once the case is referred to the Restorative Justice Program, all necessary participants are contacted. The juvenile offender, the offender's parents, the victim, and the victim's family and friends are invited to participate in a community conference using the family group conferencing model. The process is explained to all participants via telephone and followup letter. Personal visits are made only when absolutely necessary. If all agree to the process, a conference is scheduled.

    The conference is facilitated by trained officers. Facilitators direct conversations between participants and protect them from unfair treatment due to adult/juvenile power imbalances or revictimization. Facilitators never attempt to force a settlement in the conference or agreement process.

    The conference concludes with a written agreement signed by the juvenile offender and victim to make restitution to the victim and/or community. Comments from supporters at the conference are encouraged. The agreement must be fulfilled in a timely manner and any breakdown in the process prior to completion results in a referral to court. Agreements are monitored by the police department to ensure that they are fulfilled.

    Conferences are always voluntary for both the victim and offender. (The traditional court process is also an option.) Once a conference is completed and the agreement is satisfied, the case is closed.

  • Impact of Crime on Victims Program; State of California, Department of Youth Authority. The goal of the Impact of Crime on Victims Program is to increase juvenile offenders' understanding of the personal harm caused by crime. Program objectives for youthful offenders are to:

    • Prevent further victimization.

    • Create offender awareness of the impact that crime has on the victim, the family, and the community.

    • Teach offenders how to make positive decisions.

    The program involves 60 hours of classroom instruction using small-group discussion, lectures, victim and victim advocate speakers, video presentations, case studies, role-play, reading, written exercises, and homework.

    The curriculum covers property crime, domestic violence, elder abuse, child maltreatment, sexual assault, robbery, assault, homicide, and gang violence.

  • Community Justice Project; Washington County, MN, Department of Court Services. The Washington County Community Justice Project, which is part of the county's probation department, conducts victim-offender conferences at both diversion and postdisposition stages. Approximately 70 percent of the cases referred during 1996 were mediated. Of cases referred, more than 70 percent were juvenile cases. Referrals originated primarily from probation officers, judges, prosecutors, and victim advocates. Fifty percent of referrals were felonies, and 50 percent were misdemeanors.

    In addition to conducting victim-offender conferences, project mediators are available to conduct conferences in matters that have not been criminally charged, such as group conflicts in schools or neighborhoods.

    The project also sponsors community forums on restorative justice and issues that concern specific neighborhoods. For example, mediators have facilitated dialogue within schools experiencing tension due to issues such as race and ethnicity. Project staff are involved in extensive outreach to the community and actively provide technical assistance in conflict management and conferencing to educators, law enforcement, and social service providers in surrounding jurisdictions. The program recently completed a new training manual.

Common Problems in Choosing Accountability Strategies

  • Confusing Community Safety Strategies and Accountability Strategies. From a restorative justice perspective, punishment or restrictions on freedom are not forms of accountability because they do not involve an offender's accepting responsibility or taking direct action to repair harm. Restrictions on freedom may serve community safety goals, but they do not contribute to accepting responsibility, increasing understanding of the human harm, or making amends.

  • Deciding on Strategies To Repair Harm Without Offering Opportunity for Input From Victims. Accountability should focus on repairing the harm of the incident. If victims wish to participate, they are in the best position to define the harm of the crime and suggest possible reparation. Absent victim input, strategies for reparation may be inappropriate.

  • Having Only the Justice System Determine Accountability Sanctions Without Stakeholder Involvement. Answering to the community and to the victim puts a human face on the crime and is a more powerful form of accountability than just answering to the system. Without community and victim involvement, an opportunity for a more personal message to the offender is lost. Community involvement also increases the possibility for ultimate reintegration of the juvenile offender.

Recommended Participants for Implementation

  • Support system of juvenile offender (e.g., family, extended family, neighbor, coach, and clergy).

  • Victim and victim support system (e.g., family, extended family, neighbor, coworker, and faith community member).

  • Victim advocacy groups (e.g., Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Parents of Murdered Children, and victim assistance programs, for assistance with impact panels or victim empathy classes, staff training, and planning and advisory groups).

  • Community members (e.g., panel members, volunteer mediators, and planning and advisory groups).

  • Nonprofit organizations in the community (e.g., community service sites).

  • Employers (e.g., owners or managers of worksites where the offender can earn monies for restitution and learn job skills).

  • Law enforcement personnel.

  • School personnel.

Roles for Juvenile Justice Professionals

  • Facilitate victim-offender mediation or family group conferences. This role requires skill

  • Organize community volunteers to facilitate victim-offender mediation or family group conferences. Volunteers can be recruited through community fairs, faith communities, advertisements, and civic groups.

  • Solicit input from victims to determine the nature of the harm and possible ways of making amends.

  • Create employment opportunities for juvenile offenders to earn monies for restitution. Work with local businesses or the chamber of commerce for short-term job opportunities.

  • Develop sites for community work service, particularly work that is highly valued by the community (e.g., work that eases the suffering of others is particularly revered).

  • Develop victim empathy groups or classes with input and assistance from victim services or victim advocacy groups. Request curriculum that is available from the Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice.

  • Help create victim impact panels.

  • Organize volunteer community panels, boards, or committees that meet with the offender to discuss the incident and offender obligation to repair the harm to victims and community members.

  • Facilitate the process of apologies to victims and communities.

  • Invite local victim advocates to provide ongoing victim-awareness training for probation staff.

Expected Outcomes

  • Repayment of material losses to victim.

  • Visible contribution to the community.

  • Victim sense of acknowledgment of the harm and some degree of repair.

  • Community sense of juvenile offender's having made some degree of amends.

  • Increased juvenile offender awareness of the behavior's impact on other people.

Benefits to Juvenile Justice Professionals

  • Greater victim satisfaction with performance of juvenile justice professionals.

  • Greater community satisfaction with the juvenile justice system.

  • Increased fulfillment of requirements by the juvenile offender because he or she recognizes that the accountability strategies in the BARJ approach are fair and reasonable.

  • Increased options for creative forms of accountability because of input from the victim, community, and offender.

  • A broader group of people who feel responsibility for ensuring fulfillment of the accountability strategies as a result of their involvement in the support system of the offender or other involvement in the process.

  • Opportunities to facilitate a process that promotes a greater sense of closure for the victim and personal growth of the offender.

Guiding Questions for Juvenile Justice Professionals

  • How do we increase the offender's understanding of the effect of the incident on the victim, the victim's family, the offender's own family, and the neighborhood?

  • How do we encourage offenders to take responsibility for their actions?

  • How do we help the crime victim to feel that she or he did not deserve what happened?

  • How do we increase opportunities for victims to define the harm (physical, emotional, financial) from the incident and create ways for the offender to repair the harm where possible, if the victim desires?

  • How do we offer opportunities for the offender and encourage him or her to make repairs to the victim and the community?

  • How do we involve the community in creating opportunities for the offender to take responsibility and repair the harm?

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OJJDP Report: Guide for Implementing the Balanced and Restorative Justice Model NCJ 167887