The Transformational Power of Youth RJ – 30 speakers share

Historically, young offenders have been processed and treated in a comparable manner to adult offenders. However, with the rise of the RJ philosophy and methodology, young people were some of the first to be trailed in this new and innovative paradigm. Over thirty years later, RJ has increasingly built a good name and continues to play a powerful role in youth justice. Around the world, due to RJ approaches and practices, many young people have been diverted and discouraged from pursuing careers of crime.

“The concept of restorative justice is always applicable, that is we ask: What are the harms that have happened? What are the needs that have resulted? Whose obligations are they? How do we engage people in the process? To what extent can we engage people in the process? Those questions are always valid.”

Professor Howard Zehr

For many young offenders, crime does not occur in a vacuum, separate from the rest of life, but rather is aggravated by other circumstances or problems that exist. For example, there are parents, teachers, peers, and a whole range of other social, or relational, features and elements involved.

In a retributive system, however, many young offenders are processed and sentenced without physical, emotional, and spiritual needs being sufficiently appraised and addressed. Once a victim gets to prison, or some other sentencing result, these needs are often only exacerbated and can detrimentally affect their health and prospect of healing.

Research suggests that RJ practices with youth offenders have led to many promising outcomes, through programs like conferencing, victim-offender mediation, and circle sentencing. In Australia, where indigenous youth over-representation is a considerable concern, these diversionary programs for young people can lead to life-changing beneficial impacts for the offenders and their families. Especially in youth RJ, it is considered important to involve the peers and role models that surround both the offender and victim. This vividly reminds all involved that crime is not isolated, but involves relationships and the community that surrounds these people. And it is often only the RJ approach that helpfully acknowledges this reality.

RJ is based on the recognition that each party involved in the offense – offender, victim, and community – has needs and possibly trauma, and healing must take place.

As many key professionals have suggested, it must be recognised that RJ and the traditional criminal justice system do not need to be mutually exclusive. Each brings a different perspective and, with those different perspectives, different goals and results. When we consider the reality of youth crime, it can be appreciated that RJ can have great results for youth offenders, diverting them from a cyclic and recurring recidivism reality.

During RJ World 2020, we will hear from presenters on the topic of youth RJ. Youth present unique needs and obligations according to a RJ paradigm, which must be genuinely recognised and met with appropraite and sensitive practice.

3 thoughts on “The Transformational Power of Youth RJ – 30 speakers share”

  1. Yes indeed Martin. I am happy to work on youth justice for a long time already and to see what RJ can mean for young people who make a mistake and enter the criminal system. There is a clear link with children’s rights, as I will also show in my interview with em prof and children’s rights expert Jaap Doek at this RJWorldeConference.

  2. Youth RJ projects as opined is one of the best things that would happen as we strive to divert youths from crime.
    The involvement of their parents, peers, teachers, victims, ex-offenders, role models and youth leaders in their community will enable youths to cooperate with the project.
    This could lead to a revolution of sorts as many youths will see the futility of a life of crime. This ambitious projects calls for the support of Government and non-government agents and public-spirited individuals. Kudos to the presenter. I tag him ‘a youth friendly personality of rj world 2020’.

  3. I concur with you Martin, youth should be shaped by people who are close to them so that they can understand how their actions are negatively affecting others. Instead of using the conventional justice system to shape them, this role should be returned to the families of such youths and their communities because they matter more than professionals would.

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