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Restorative Practices in the Juvenile Justice System


  • Our youth are being incarcerated at alarming rates in America
  • There are many risk factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile courts that practice restorative justice have significantly reduced recidivism compared with those using traditional approaches.

1Although the juvenile incarceration rates in the United States have been slowly decreasing, the incarceration of juveniles is still an issue that negatively impacts the development and growth of the U.S. as a nation. Within these juveniles who are named delinquents and locked up, “Black and American Indian youth are overrepresented in juvenile facilities, while white youth are underrepresented” (Wendy Sawyer, 2018). The result is that a disproportionate number of youth of color end up with a criminal record before reaching adulthood. 

Many juveniles are criminalized and punished harshly without the risk factors being taken into account. Some of the risk factors for youth incarceration listed by the U.S. Department of Justice include maltreatment, parents’ divorce, teenage parenthood, association with deviant peers, low academic aspirations, poverty, access to weapons, substance abuse, etc.. (J. Robert Flores, 2003). When many juveniles are caught by law enforcement after a crime has been committed, these risk factors are not taken into consideration. As a result, there is a lack of protective factors such as: services, diversion, prevention, restoration, transformation, rehabilitation, and justice within the criminal justice system. The current system is more focused on punitive consequences than restorative options.

At The Conflict Center, our mission focuses on laying the foundation of Restorative Practices in schools. Restorative processes bring communities and classrooms together. Research is showing that a restorative approach to discipline in schools fosters a feeling of respect amongst students and teachers which in turn leads to greater respect for the cultural expectations of the school community. When everyone in the school community understands that there are far-reaching consequences to bad actions, students are more willing to cooperate with one another. In criminal justice, it is broadly recognized that people convicted of crimes have a high likelihood of reoffending. Restorative justice, meanwhile, with its emphasis on community, empathy, and responsibility offer an effective alternative to punitive punishment. Juvenile courts that practice restorative justice have significantly reduced recidivism compared with those using traditional approaches.. At the Conflict Center, we are encourage programs and approaches to give young people a safe place to express their beliefs and feelings. Restorative Practices in schools lays the foundation for a larger acceptance of a non-punitive approach in the community and justice system thus helping to contribute to diminishing rates of juvenile incarceration.

1 According to the ACLU, “On any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States” (2019).


Additional Resources for Restorative Practices
Hechinger Report
Youth Violence & Juvenile Justice
Sage Journals
Little Book of RJ in Education
Kathy Evans