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Restorative Practices in Schools

Several methods of practicing restorative justice can be found in Illinois. Peacemaking Circles, Restorative Conferences and Peer Juries are the most common. Outcomes from all practices include increased satisfaction from those harmed by criminal behavior, higher rates of completion of consequences, and lower rates of recidivism as well as a greater sense of safety in communities. Below are some brief descriptions and definitions.

Peacemaking Circles

Circles are a process grounded in the shared values of those in the circle that creates understanding, builds and repairs relationships and assists with solving conflicts and disputes. They create a safe place for problem solving and conflict resolution in communities and schools as well as in workplaces. Rather than being led by a facilitator, a Circle has one or more “keepers” whose role is primarily to hold the container of the circle in a safe way so that all can be heard and can listen. Circles may include those who have been harmed, those who have harmed others, their support people and community representatives (such as teachers or police officers). By using a talking piece, participants are able to be fully heard as they speak, and can be freed to fully listen as the talking piece travels around the circle. The person holding the talking piece has the undivided attention of everyone else in the circle and can speak without interruption. The use of the talking piece allows for full expression of emotions, deeper listening, thoughtful reflection, and an unrushed pace and is important in creating a safe space and an invitation for people who find it difficult to speak in a group. In schools, Peacemaking Circes can be used for creating culture change and reducing violence and bullying in schools, as well as following inappropriate student behavior.

Restorative Group Conferences in Schools
Also called Family Group Conferences, Accountability Conferences

Restorative Conferences involve the community of people most affected by the offense—the harmed, the harmer, and the family, friends, and key supporters of both—in deciding the resolution of a criminal incident. These affected parties are brought together by a trained facilitator to discuss how they and others have been harmed and how that harm might be repaired. Participation by all involved is voluntary. To participate, the offender must first admit to the offense. The facilitator contacts the offender first. If the conference is possible, then the facilitator contacts the harmed person to explain the process and invites them to the conference. The facilitator also asks them to identify key members of their support systems, who will be invited to participate as well.

Conferencing was developed from the Maori tradition in New Zealand, where it is currently used for almost all juvenile offenses. In the United States, it is practiced by police departments, communities, and schools. In communities it can be used as a diversion from the court system or after adjudication. In schools, it can be used as an alternative to suspension and expulsion. While it is appropriate for both adults and youth, it is primarily used with youth as a diversion in Illinois.

Peer Juries

Peer Juries, found in both school and community settings, typically incorporate a combination of Conferencing and Circles. (Peer Juries, unlike Youth Courts, are not intended to resemble courtroom settings.) Peer Jurors are youth who work with young offenders, their victims, and their community to repair harm, build competencies, and create safer communities. They usually deal with minor delinquent and status offenses and other problem behaviors. Normally, an adult advisor sits in the room with the Peer Jurors to oversee the proceedings, but does not participate.

Peer Jury programs require youth to admit guilt prior to participation. In communities, Peer Juries are used as a diversion from the court system. Following a successful completion of the agreement, the young offender’s legal charges are typically dismissed. Agencies operating and administering Peer Jury programs include juvenile courts, juvenile probation departments, law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, and schools.

Peer Juries in schools are similar to those in communities, in that referred youth attend the Peer Jury after committing an offense (typically referred by an administrator) to avoid suspension or other disciplinary sanctions by completing a contract to repair the harm caused.

Community Service and Restitution

Community Service and Restitution are frequent consequences of Restorative Justice Practices. Data from Illinois have shown that youth who have been involved in an RJ practice are much more likely to complete Community Service and pay Restitution. Some counties have reported payment of restitution as high as 100% when using restorative practices, while others have data reporting in the 90 - 100% range. In addition, a study by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, found juveniles who agreed to pay restitution as an informal disposition, as well as those formally ordered to pay restitution, returned to court significantly less often than juveniles who did not pay restitution (OJJDP, 1992).

Just as neighborhoods and communities are harmed by criminal and delinquent activities, they can be at least partially restored by meaningful service that contributes to their improvement. Community Service offers one way in which an offender can be held accountable to repair some of the harms to the community caused by his or her actions. It assists young offenders in building relationships with members of the community and to feel a greater sense of belonging in that community.

Community Service and Restitution are used in almost all counties in Illinois. They are sometimes used as a court function and overseen by probation. A goal of Community Service is to help offenders understand the harm they have caused to the community and to give them the opportunity to repair that harm in some way. Paying Restitution enables youth to understand the needs and obligations involved when harm is committed.

Examples of community service include public work programs that beautify a community's environment, such as a park; roadside cleanup efforts; or graffiti removal. Community Service in a restorative setting offers crime victims the opportunity to provide input into the types of community service they would like to see the offender perform, including activities that directly benefit the victim or a charity or project of the victim's choice.