Balanced and Restorative Justice Practice: Competency Development

Competency is the capacity to do something well that others value. Juvenile offenders, like other young people, need to become competent, caring individuals who are concerned for those around them. Once juvenile offenders have been held accountable for rectifying their behavior with their victims, the BARJ approach provides opportunities for them to belong, contribute, form close relationships, make meaningful choices, develop transferable skills, and mentor others while avoiding harmful behavior.

To allow them to practice and demonstrate competency, juvenile offenders need meaningful community roles that contribute to the well-being of others. The cycle of reciprocity (doing favors for one another) is the basis of community, and this requires the capability to perform functions of value to others.

Restorative accountability practice can also build competencies. Restorative community service allows youth to develop competencies by learning new skills and work habits. A youth who participates in a victim-offender mediation session may gain personal skills and insight about conflict management. Victim empathy classes may increase the interpersonal skills of a juvenile. A sense of competency is fundamental to a healthy relationship with family and community. See Table 1 for a list of key competencies.

It is not enough to develop strategies to prevent dangerous things, such as substance abuse, or to preach against behaviors that place youth in jeopardy. We must be equally adamant about stating and enabling goals that we wish young people to achieve: postsecondary education, community involvement, civic contribution, and leadership roles.

Source: Pittman and Fleming. 1991.
A New Vision: Promoting Youth Development.

Table 1. Key Competencies


  • Preparation and experience for work, career, and family life.

  • Understanding and value of work, leisure, and family life.

  • Awareness of life's options and steps for making choices.
Education, Knowledge, Reasoning, and Creativity

  • Adequate credentials, basic academic skills, and eligibility for and awareness of opportunities for continued learning and advancement.

  • Broad base of knowledge and ability to appreciate and demonstrate creative expression.

  • Good oral, written, and computing skills and ability to learn.

  • Interest in lifelong learning and achieving.
Personal/Social, Conflict Management, and Communication Skills

  • Intrapersonal skills, such as the ability to understand emotions and practice self-discipline.

  • Interpersonal skills, such as working with others and developing and sustaining friendships through cooperation, empathy, negotiation, and conflict management.

  • Developing judgment skills and a coping system.
Decisionmaking, Reasoning, and Problem Solving

  • Ability to make good decisions in daily interactions, to manage anger and emotions, and to solve problems creatively.

  • Understanding of the history and values of one's Nation, community, and racial, ethnic, or cultural group.

  • Desire to be ethical and to be involved in efforts that contribute to the broader good.

  • Good current health status and evidence of knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that will ensure future well-being, including non-violence, exercise, good nutrition, and effective contraceptive and safe sex practices.
Adapted from Pittman and Flemming. 1991. A New Vision: Promoting Youth Development.

Characteristics of Restorative Competency Development

  • Strategies build on the strengths of offenders, families, and communities.

  • Youth are given a role in work, family, and community that instills a sense of belonging, usefulness, and control.

  • Youth have active roles that allow them to practice productive behavior.

  • Cognitive learning and decisionmaking are integrated with active, experiential, and productive pursuits.

  • Treatment and services (e.g., counseling) are used as supports for the overall restorative process rather than in isolation.

  • Youth work and interact with law-abiding adults in the community (especially the elderly).

  • Delinquent and nondelinquent youth and adults are mixed whenever possible to avoid the image of programs for "bad kids."

  • Activities are designed with input from the community (e.g., employers, civic groups, and religious institutions).

  • Activities are chosen that can be continued permanently.

  • Opportunities are provided for youth to help their peers, younger children, and the less fortunate.

  • Group experience and teamwork are emphasized frequently.

Table 2 contrasts examples of competency development practices with individual treatment interventions. Balanced and restorative competency development allows young offenders to become active participants in the process. As such, youth build a sense of personal ownership in the outcome.

In contrast, in traditional individual treatment approaches, young offenders are seen as recipients of services. Traditional individual treatment interventions listed in the table may be necessary for an individual youth. However, in restorative justice, these interventions are used most effectively to support competency development strategies -- not instead of or as a prerequisite for competency development.

Competencies are best developed when young offenders have the opportunity to become providers of service to others in the community -- not just passive consumers of services. Through the competency development process, young offenders have the potential to view themselves and be viewed by those around them as community assets and resources rather than as liabilities or threats to community life.

Table 2. Differences Between Individual Treatment and Competency Development Practices
Individual TreatmentCompetency Development
Group and family counseling Peer counseling, leadership development, service projects, and family living skills
Drug therapy and drug education Youth as drug educators and drug researchers
Remedial education Cross-age tutoring (juvenile offenders teach younger children) and educational action teams
Job readiness and job counseling Work experience, service crews, employment, job preparation, and career exploration
Recreational activities Youth as recreation aides and recreation planners
Outdoor challenge programs Conservation projects, community development projects, recycling, and community beautification projects
Cultural sensitivity training Youth-developed cultural education projects
Youth and family mediation Conflict resolution training and youth as school conflict mediators
Mentoring and "big brother" programs Work with adult mentors on community projects and intergenerational projects with the elderly
Adapted from G. Bazemore and P. Cruise. 1995.

Restorative Competency Development Practice Definitions

  • Work Experience in Jobs Involving Meaningful Skills. Meaningful skills are those that have value for the community and transfer competencies to offenders that enhance the offender's ability to make future contributions to the community as a valued citizen.

  • Service Learning. Service learning involves doing worthwhile work in the community, with a purposeful outcome that the offender can recognize. This work meets a real need in the community, is positively acknowledged by the community, and achieves clear educational outcomes. Service learning aids the development of work skills, social competencies, and reliability that the offender can transfer to compensated work.

  • Participation in Resource and Action Teams (Planning and Problem Solving for Real Issues). Rather than being viewed as recipients of services, youth are seen as true resources for and representatives of the community. Juvenile justice professionals may facilitate a process where juveniles have the opportunity to identify needs in the community and work together to implement a needed service or change.

  • Cognitive and Decisionmaking Skills Training. Cognitive and decisionmaking skills training addresses specific deficit areas that may hamper an offender's ability to analyze situations and make reasonable decisions about his or her behavior. Attention is given to improving the youth's moral reasoning, which means decisionmaking processes (as opposed to a religious definition of morality).

    Developmental deficits related to self-control, cognitive style, interpersonal problem solving, critical thinking, and values are addressed through psychoeducational and social learning techniques to help juvenile offenders rehearse both new behavioral and thinking techniques.

    Programming areas also help youth examine and define their current beliefs, thinking, and values and the impact these attributes have on their lives. Anger management and empathy development may be components of cognitive and decisionmaking skills training. Attention is given to beliefs and reasoning that inform an offender about "right" and "wrong" in his or her decisionmaking process.

  • Dispute Resolution and Mediation Training and Practice. Training youth to become mediators or facilitators for victim-offender mediation and family or larger group (e.g., school) conferencing is an excellent means of building competencies for choosing alternatives to violence to settle disputes and to improve communication and listening skills.

  • Emotional Control Training. Emotional control training is designed to foster social and moral growth in offenders. The overriding goal is to help juvenile offenders rise above past behaviors and reenter the community as productive members who are connected to others. Emotional control training involves cognitive and social competencies, including self-control, cognitive style, interpersonal problem solving, critical thinking, and values.

Promising Programs: Competency Development

  • Community Justice Corps; Deschutes County Department of Community Justice; Deschutes County, OR. Probation officers created this comprehensive community work service program to offer juvenile offenders the opportunity to give back to their community while gaining valuable competencies. The corps has built a 70-bed shelter for the homeless, stocked firewood for the county's impoverished elderly, and performed many other services.

  • ALIVE (A Look in the Victim's Eyes); Deschutes County Department of Community Justice; Deschutes County, OR. A core competency required in the BARJ philosophy is empathy for others. If juvenile offenders can develop a genuine sense of empathy for their victims, the likelihood of their continued criminal behavior can be reduced. In Deschutes County, young offenders complete a six-session course designed to build empathy for victims. The program is particularly useful in advance of victim-offender mediation. Offenders engage in role-playing and discussion groups and hear from victims in an effort to boost their sense of empathy.

  • Neighborhood Citizens Committee; Long Beach, CA. The Neighborhood Citizens Committee (NCC) was organized to address the problem of increased criminal activity by juveniles, both in numbers and severity. NCC works within the Los Angeles Probation Department to involve parents and juveniles in alleviating troublesome aspects of family life and guide the juveniles toward a more meaningful future.

    NCC consists of community volunteers dedicated to helping youth who have committed minor offenses. The volunteers listen to the youth and their families, give attention to the juvenile as an individual, and supervise community service that stresses responsibility, contributes to society, and helps the youth develop an awareness of the world around him or her through exposure to new people, places, and events.

    Juveniles referred by the juvenile justice system are placed on a 6-month contract during which they perform community service. Leisure time is structured, and the youth are encouraged to set future goals for themselves. They are given reading assessments, tutored, and monitored throughout the contract period. NCC also receives referrals from schools and from law enforcement regarding juveniles who have never been arrested but who may need adult supervision and positive redirection.

    NCC recently formed a roundtable discussion group for male juvenile offenders who have no father or other positive role model in their lives. Another NCC committee plans social activities for juveniles and their parents where they discuss topics such as job applications, interview dress and behavior, and back-to-school competencies, including attitude, attendance, and study habits.

  • Community Intensive Supervision Program (CISP); Service and Action Projects With the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation; Allegheny County, PA. The Garfield CISP community work provided by juvenile offenders has become an integral service to the community. Projects include "Get Out to Vote" and "Paint Your Heart Out," in which CISP youth and staff painted two homes in the Garfield and Homewood communities for low-income, elderly, and disabled community members. Other projects include envelope stuffing for the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation (a local nonprofit organization); distributing fliers to neighbors about community events; removing graffiti from walls and cleaning and weeding vacant lots in the Garfield community; painting the juvenile court and family court in downtown Pittsburgh; shoveling snow for neighborhood business residents; collecting old telephone books for recycling; distributing food to the elderly and other community members in Garfield; participating in the Martin Luther King community celebration; and many other community efforts that help to meet the needs of the greater community.

    CISP community service provides an excellent learning experience for CISP youth and for community members, who continue to express positive comments regarding these community projects.

  • CISP Drug Awareness Education; Allegheny County, PA. Juvenile offenders who either have graduated from CISP or are at advanced levels in the program are active in mentoring and instructing newer participants.

  • Youth Restoration/Back on Track Program; Palm Beach County, FL. Youth Restoration/Back on Track is a collaboration between the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, municipal police departments, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, and community organizations, such as The 100 Black Men of Palm Beach County and MAD DADS of Greater Delray Beach Youth. Side by side with adult mentors in the community, youth plan, implement, and manage community service projects that directly benefit local neighborhoods and fulfill court-ordered community service hours. Juvenile offenders in this program also earn money toward restitution for victims.

    Examples of projects in Palm Beach include the following:

    • More than 50 youth participated in a restoration and beautification project of the Barton Memorial Park, a historical black cemetery.

    • The playground of a shelter for HIV-positive and AIDS-infected children was cleaned and upgraded.

    • Homes of many elderly and disabled residents were painted and landscaped.

    • Youth performed skits and folktales at a cultural fair designed to teach tolerance and cultural sensitivity.

    • Youth planned and implemented a voter registration drive. Earnings from this project, provided through stipends paid by the League of Women Voters, were used for victim restitution.

  • South Florida Youth Environmental Service Program; Palm Beach County, FL. The core of this program features paid work experience and also unpaid community service, in which serious juvenile offenders work with national park staff to maintain and restore portions of the Loxahatchee Wildlife Preserve in the Florida Everglades. Educational curriculums that emphasize environmental preservation and environmental career exploration are incorporated into this competency-building experience.

    Accountability to victims is addressed by direct payments that are deducted from offender paychecks (or payment into a victims fund when original victims cannot be located). The program incorporates victim-awareness classes and victim panels to enable youth to learn more about the impact of their criminal behavior and to develop empathy.

  • Montana Conservation Corps; Helena, MT. The Montana Conservation Corps matches young offenders with AmeriCorps (a Federal youth-for-community-service agency) workers who, together, perform environmental resto-ration, national park maintenance, and social services in crews of six youth and six adult mentors. Program youth complete community service requirements, pay restitution, and work on decisionmaking, conflict management, and leadership skills in the applied setting of the community service project. AmeriCorps workers also mentor youth for 8 to 10 hours per week.

  • Expanded Life Choices Programming for Women Under Supervision; Dakota County Corrections Department; Dakota County, MN. Expanded Life Choices is offered for women who are under court supervision. The program is designed to be a bridge to skills needed to change personal patterns of behavior. It encourages the positive development of skills that women can use in different situations rather than providing simple answers for individual problems.

    Topics include:

    • Introduction and assessment of sources of learned behavior.

    • Self-esteem.

    • Communication.

    • Values.

    • Changes/problems and decisions.

    • Conflict management.

    • Power and control.

    Each session is 2 hours in length, and attendance is reported the next day.

  • A-B-C Cognitive Change Program; Dakota County Corrections Department; Dakota County, MN. This program has four components:

    • Part I assists offenders in examining and defining their current beliefs, thinking, and values and the impact these attributes have on their lives. The goal is to support group members in identifying faulty, inappropriate, or distorted beliefs and thinking that lead to problematic or illegal behavior.

    • Part II focuses on anger management and effective problem-solving skills.

    • Part III has offenders examine their relationships with others and their victim empathy.

    • Part IV assists group members in setting goals and developing a prevention plan.

  • Carver-Scott Educational Cooperative Services and STS (Sentence to Serve) -- PLUS Programs; Carver County Court Services; Chaska, MN. STS -- PLUS is designed to reduce recidivism for delinquent youth, improve the lives of youth in the community, reduce the number of school dropouts, enhance education and vocational skills, and reconnect youth to the community through service learning projects.

    Youthful offenders are among the participants in the Carver-Scott Educational Cooperative, which is a collaborative program involving educators, social services, law enforcement, public health, and juvenile justice professionals.

    Youth are given school credit based on their experience with community service projects. In addition, a portion of their court-ordered community work service is pardoned when they adhere to their personalized educational plan.

    Two recent community service projects involved planning and cultivating crops on a working farm and assisting in building housing for women with children who are leaving violent relationships.

    For the farming project, youth researched and decided what crops would be grown and what methods of farming were necessary for the best yields. They also contacted local produce retailers and arranged to have their crop of sunflowers and pumpkins sold. They learned about markets, finance, planning, and teamwork and also made strong connections with members of their community.

    Youth are also involved at the farm in raising horses and serving as riding guides for disabled riders. This experience teaches them how to care for the horses, build relationships, and serve the community.

    For the housing program, youth researched issues related to family violence and learned about the needs of women leaving violent relationships. Together with community members and under the direction of program staff, youth helped to construct homes for families in transition. During the process, they learned about alternatives to violence and conflict management.

Common Problems in Competency Development Programming

  • Assuming That Treatment and Remediation Are the Same as Competency Development. Treatment and remediation may be needed to support competency development, but youth do not become competent by completing treatment programs. Treatment and remediation typically are grounded in a deficit orientation, which assumes that young offenders have little to contribute to their communities. Competency development must focus on strengths.

  • Programming for Competency Development in Isolation From the Community. Competency development must involve practicing skills in community settings and should be designed to increase interaction with conventional adults other than the service provider. Valued competencies are defined by community needs and norms.

  • Using Traditional Passive Learner Models. Youth must learn and practice competency through active, experiential learning that produces tangible results and includes a reflection component.

  • Using Programs That Do Not Build Transferable Skills. Youth must be able to demonstrate competencies that are valued by the community and useful in conventional settings.

  • Stating Conditions of Supervision Only in the Negative (e.g., "Shall Nots") and Imposing Passive Requirements (e.g., Attend Counseling or Report Weekly). The absence of bad behavior or deficits is not competency. Competency is the enhancement and building of strengths, resources, interests, potentials, and positive attributes. A key question to consider is, "If you take away an undesirable behavior, what are you left with?"

Recommended Participants for Implementation

  • School staff.

  • Employers.

  • Community service programs.

  • Adult mentors.

  • Family.

  • Staff from skill-based community programs (e.g., victim-offender mediation programs).

Roles for Juvenile Justice Professionals

  • Assess youth, family, and community strengths, resources, and interests.

  • Develop work and service opportunities for all youth under supervision.

  • Develop community partnerships with employers, religious institutions, clubs, and civic groups to provide work and service roles for youth on supervision, and recruit supervisors.

  • Advocate for a new school curriculum that builds on the strengths and interests of delinquent youth and allows for school credit for creative community service experience.

  • Find creative, active roles for youth in treatment programs as helpers to other youth.

  • Develop projects in which youth can be trained in areas such as mediation, conflict management, and drug prevention and then educate others.

  • Arrange speaking engagements for youth who are succeeding in competency development activities.

  • Involve youth in program-planning groups and committees with juvenile justice staff and other adults in the community.

  • Involve youth in voter registration and other programs that teach and reinforce citizenship.

  • Conduct or facilitate decisionmaking skills, conflict management, and cognitive training courses for offenders and individuals who work with offenders.

Juvenile justice professionals can play a critical role in facilitating competency development by providing opportunities for youth to practice and demonstrate competency. However, because juvenile offenders will not develop transferable competencies within traditional treatment programs and probation casework, community partnerships are a crucial component in implementing competency development practices.

Expected Outcomes

  • Increased capacity of young offenders to contribute productively to their communities.

  • Increased capacity of adults and community groups to accept and integrate delinquent youth.

  • Measurable increase in educational, occupational, social, and decisionmaking abilities of juvenile offenders.

  • Increased bonding to conventional adults.

  • Improvements in self-image and public image of delinquent youth.

  • Clear demonstration by offenders of skills valued by the community.

  • Increased involvement of community members in the juvenile justice system.

Benefits to Juvenile Justice Professionals

  • Increased community satisfaction with the juvenile justice system as a result of measurable increases in competency of delinquent youth.

  • Enhanced image of juvenile justice workers as assets to the community because of their ability to facilitate transformation of delinquent youth into community assets.

  • Increased number of conventional adults in the community who become invested in the success of the juvenile offender.

  • Personal satisfaction derived from facilitating positive change in the juvenile offender.

Guiding Questions for Juvenile Justice Professionals

  • How do we increase the juvenile offender's skills for living successfully in the community?

  • How do we demonstrate the juvenile offender's competencies to the community?

  • How do we engage the juvenile offender and community members together in activities in which they experience a sense of competency and contribution to one another?

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