Mediation in Juvenile Criminal Cases
In the US, rather than going through the traditional juvenile justice system, young offenders are being given the opportunity to meet their victims.11 min read
by Peggy L. Chown, J.D. and John H. Parham, Ph.D.
[The authors are with the Department of Political Science and Law Enforcement at Mankato State University.]
In 1974, two youths in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, went on a crime spree, robbing and vandalizing 21 homes. They paid for their crimes by visiting each of the 21 victims, apologizing for the damage they had caused, and paying restitution.1 Two decades ago, this approach was considered unorthodox, even for juvenile offenders. Today, it would meet with much resistance from individuals advocating strict penalties for lawbreakers.
Yet, in several countries, including Canada, England, Finland, and even in the United States, rather than going through the traditional juvenile justice system where the basic choice is adjudicate or ignore, young offenders are being given the opportunity to meet their victims. Together, they discuss what the offender did and why; how the offense affected the victim; and how the offender might make amends. In short, offenders and their victims are engaging in mediation.
THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Individuals who have experience with the juvenile justice system-- including victims, witnesses, and criminal justice professionals-- usually voice two major complaints. First, many believe that juveniles often get away with criminal activity. Second, victims often seem to have no input into delinquency matters. These complaints result in disillusionment and a belief that offenders generally are not held accountable for their actions.
Crowded court calendars often mean that juvenile cases never get adjudicated. Even when adjudication results, young offenders usually receive probation. Thus, juveniles come away with very little understanding of what drove their antisocial behavior in the first place and are even less enlighten about how to change the behavior. More fundamentally, they fail to realize why the behavior must change. Once they have met all of the court-imposed requirements--if, in fact, there are any--juveniles are forgotten, until the next time they commit a crime. In the meantime, juvenile crime rates continue to soar.
Yet, in many jurisdictions, tougher sanctions, resulting from society's return to a punishment mode, have resulted in overcrowded facilities and demands for increased funding for correctional institutions. Still, there simply is no reliable research to support the view that getting tough with offenders reduces juvenile crime.