Hometown, U.S.A.

On the night of May 15, John Smith and Bob Jones, both 15-year-old white males, broke into a home in their community and stole several hundred dollars worth of property. The stolen items included about $75 in cash, a bicycle, a CD player, a radio, a tape player and tapes, and a sports jacket belonging to the teenage son who lived in the home. They also broke a screen and window in the house, spray painted an outside wall, and knocked over trash. They were later questioned and arrested for the break-in and theft when another youth at school thought he recognized the jacket his friend had said was stolen.

Both boys were processed and brought before the juvenile court where they were adjudicated delinquent. Springfield’s juvenile justice system was engaged in trying a new approach for working with nonviolent delinquent youth. Youth were randomly assigned to traditional corrections programs or the “new” program approach. As it so happened, John Smith was assigned to the traditional program, and Bob Jones entered the new program. This is the story of what happened to each of them, their victims, and their community.

Retributive Justice system

John Smith, Traditional Program

The pre-sentence investigation found that John Smith lives with both parents, an older sister, and a younger brother. John’s father is a custodian at a local business, and his mother works in a restaurant. They live in a working class neighborhood, and John attends Central High School, where his school work has been average. He has had a few disciplinary problems at school but has never been suspended. He has had no significant illnesses or accidents. He admits to occasional use of alcohol and marijuana, but the assessment did not find the level of use to require treatment. John has never received any mental health treatment.

John was sentenced to probation. Every other week for a year, he was to report to his probation officer for supervision. Once a month, his probation officer made a “surprise” visit to check on John at school, at home, or in the community.

John was ordered to pay restitution to his victims. His share was $200. His probation officer told him to find a job. John found a job and paid approximately half of the money. However, he lost that job and could not or would not find another one.

John was ordered to do 75 hours of community service. His probation officer told him to show up every Saturday morning to help the county grounds crews do yard work and other maintenance in parks and around county buildings. He went for a while but then started missing work. He always gave his probation officer an excuse. The work crew leader said John was not a very good worker even when he did show up.

For treatment, John also had to attend a group meeting twice a month during his period of probation. The treatment group used a cognitive behavioral curriculum to help youth learn better social skills, improve self-esteem, and practice prosocial attitudes, values, and behaviors.

For punishment, John had to spend 3 weekends in the local detention center. While he was there, he met other youth who were in trouble and, when released, began hanging out with them in the community. For some reason, despite the supervision, treatment, and punishment, John began getting into more and more trouble.

At the end of John’s probation, he had paid about half of his restitution and had completed about half of his community service. He had attended group sessions and supervision appointments regularly. John’s probation officer felt he had satisfactorily completed his probation and was as “rehabilitated” as could be expected. He asked the court to close the case. His victims said they did not know who John was, and they were not satisfied with the resolution of the case. John’s parents participated in only the intake conference and one family case review while he was on probation. His mother felt the probation officer expected too much of John, and she was ready to back John up when he needed an excuse for not doing his community service. At school, John got a reputation for being a “delinquent.” Some of his teachers and peers said they were afraid of him, even though his behavior and school work were about the same as before.

Probably not the end.

Restorative Justice system

Bob Jones, Restorative Circle Conferencing Program

The presentence investigation found that Bob Jones lives with his mother and two younger sisters. They live in a subsidized apartment. His parents are divorced, but his father lives in Springfield and is supportive and involved with his children. His mother works at a factory, and his father works in a car repair shop. Bob also attends Central High School. His grades have ranged from B’s to D’s. He has had two 1-day suspensions for skipping school. He is in good health and has not had any major health or mental health treatment. Bob says he sometimes drinks with his friends but does not usually get drunk.

Bob also was sentenced to probation, but his probation officer approached the case differently. She had received special training in this new approach. She held a meeting that was attended by everyone who had an interest in the case. Bob and his parents, the family whose home was robbed, and a panel of six persons (three youth and three adults) came.

The probation officer asked members of the family whose home was robbed to describe how the crime affected them. The son said he had not been able to keep his paper route because he lost his bicycle, and without it, he could not earn money to replace the other stolen items. The mother of the family said she had been afraid when she was home alone since the break-in occurred. The father said he was angry about the damage done to his property.

Next, Bob told the group why he had done the crime. He said he and John wanted to go to a concert but did not have the money. They knew the youth living in the house had a paper route and earned money. They planned to steal enough to buy tickets, but when they found the other items, they decided to steal them as well. Bob’s parents also spoke, saying they were disappointed that their son had done this. They said they had already grounded him from playing ball.

An adult community member said that such crimes in the neighborhood made her and her friends nervous to be alone. A gentleman said that he was concerned that vandalism and graffiti would make the area look appealing to other criminals. A youth said she felt the actions of the two boys reflected badly on all teenagers, giving them all a bad reputation even when they did nothing wrong.

At the end of the meeting, the probation officer asked everyone to give their ideas about what could be done to repair the harm and make amends for the crime. First, she asked Bob to say what he thought he should do. Bob said he thought he should get a job and repay the money, but he did not know where he could get hired. One of the community members at the conference said he would hire Bob to sweep out his store and do other jobs every day after school. Bob’s dad said he thought that he and Bob should go repair the window and screen and repaint the damaged wall. He said he would withhold Bob’s allowance until the materials were paid for. One of the community youth suggested Bob should also help with the Teen Center’s Home Repair Project. They will spend Saturdays helping older residents in the community with lawn care and home upkeep. An adult from the community said he thought Bob should write a letter of apology to the family he had robbed. The probation officer said she wanted Bob to attend a group session with other youth in which they would work on pro-social attitudes, values, and behaviors.

Bob completed each part of his obligation. He worked in the store of the community member from the committee after school until he repaid the $200 he owed. He and his dad repaired the damage to the victims’ home. He helped with the youth home repair project and made a couple of new friends. Later, he continued to help with home repairs and spent time with his new friends after school. Other teens and adults who knew Bob said they felt comfortable with him and thought he was trying to act appropriately. Bob wrote a letter of apology to the family he robbed. He worked on it for several weeks before the probation officer said it was okay, and then he sent it to the victims. Bob also attended the group sessions regularly and often shared mature insights into prosocial values and behaviors based on his other experiences in the “justice system.”

When Bob’s year on probation ended, the probation officer held a closing conference with all the persons who had been at the first conference. She summarized what Bob had accomplished. She asked each person to say what he or she thought about that and about the approach she had taken. The victims said they felt Bob had repaid them, in money and in work, for the losses they experienced. The community members said they felt Bob was a credit to the community and had made an important contribution through his help with the home repair project. His parents said they thought the process had been fair, and they felt Bob was more mature because of it. Bob said he had learned a lot. He had gained many skills from his job and his volunteer work, he had legitimate ways to earn money, he had made new friends, and he thought about things differently now.

Probably the end.

In both of the situations just described, those involved were attempting to achieve “justice.” However, in John Smith’s case, all activities were focused on him as the offender, whereas in Bob Jones’ case, justice practices included everyone affected by the crime.Juvenile crime takes a toll on everyone: victims, offenders, communities, and the Nation. The quality of everyone’s life diminishes each time a youth engages in unlawful activities. Not only are lives constricted by fear, but scarce resources are consumed as well. Both financial and human resources used to address criminal behavior must be subtracted from other, more positive and productive areas of community life. Current approaches to juvenile delinquency must be examined and should be modified to include different strategies that are more humane and more cost effective.

Taken from Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package for Juvenile Corrections Report
~ December 2000

Conflict Solutions Center