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Conferencing brings the victim and offender to a face-to-face meeting to discuss the crime and its impact. This process includes support people for both the victim and offender in the discussions. Representatives from the criminal justice system may also be present in the conference process. A trained facilitator, who does not have a role in the substantive discussions, guides the participants in a dialogue about the crime and its impact. The facilitator ensures that each participant has a voice in the proceedings.
The conferencing process can be divided into three parts: pre-conference preparation, the actual conference, and post-conference follow-up. In preparing for the conference, the conference facilitator will meet with each of the participants to discuss the process, answer questions, and ensure that they have realistic expectations for the conference. Afterwards, the facilitator may monitor the completion of any agreement arising from the process.
In the conference, the victim and offender each tell their story. They talk about the events of the crime and its subsequent impact on their lives. They can each ask questions of the other and in the process build a common understanding of the events that occurred. The victim supporters are able to talk about the crime, its impact on their loved one, and their own lives. The offender supporters show that the offender is not an isolated being, express how the offending behavior has impacted them, and provide extra insight into who the offender is and how he/she came to commit the offence.
A key element of the conferencing process is conveying disapproval of the behavior of while showing respect for the offender and working to reintegrate him/her back into the community. At the same time, the victim needs to have his/her experiences validated through the recognition of the harms he/she received. When each of the participants feels safe and fully included in the process, restorative conferencing can build an environment conducive to open, positive communication leading to this type of experience. This is reflected in the values underlying restorative processes:
Mutual Respect - recognizing the humanity of the other
Collaboration - working together to find solutions
Voluntarism - allowing parties to decide whether or not to participate
Empowerment - enabling participants to develop solutions to their own problems.
Conferencing can be used at any stage of the criminal justice process, but is typically used relatively early. For example some police jurisdictions have developed conferencing programs as an alternative to arrest and referral to the formal criminal justice system.
Conferencing developed in New Zealand as a response to the over-representation of Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) youth in the criminal justice system. In 1989, the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act created new alternatives for responding to juvenile crime and child protection issues by placing more decision making authority in the hands of families and communities. The process has roots in traditional practices in Maori traditions. Since its introduction in New Zealand, conferencing has been implemented in Australia, the United States, England and Wales and Canada.
Restorative Justice is visionary work. Restorative Justice also has historical proven results. So… at what point does the vision become reality? This is where KCRJ’s work begins. We are visionaries with an old-fashioned Kentucky pioneer spirit.
KCRJ is a resource and training center designed to unify voices searching for direction while providing a variety of justice services.
We train community leaders to implement policies that have real impact on both the citizens and the economy. Kentucky needs Restorative Justice leaders . . . just ordinary people like you with extraordinary determination. No matter how good the vision is, a vision without action is just a dream. Without highly trained and dedicated leaders to guide the process, Restorative Justice remains a dream … a vision… of what “can be.” This is where your work begins.
Decision-makers like you are ready to jump-start the process by learning and implementing forward-thinking policies. Kentucky is full of talented, experienced and forward-thinking leaders ready to make an impact on society. By collaborating with your fellow professionals, you become a part of the spirit that drives our communities forward. Life in Kentucky lends one a selfless pride in community that has traditionally and historically led Kentucky in new and exciting directions.
Jessica White, a 7th grade student at Fairview Middle School, recently won a Marathon-sponsored essay contest which included this description of Kentuckians’ “unbridled spirit”:
"People of Kentucky also have an unbridled helping spirit. You don't have to look far in my hometown of Ashland, Kentucky to find teamwork of a whole other kind. At each school, family resource centers are set up to help families less fortunate with clothing, school supplies, or food. Community kitchens, abuse shelters, homeless shelters, counseling centers, and clinics are an easily found part of our community. But beyond that, our people have a genuine spirit of generosity that comes, I believe, from having to work hard for what you have, so you appreciate it more and are more mindful of the needs of others. In my youth group at church and the civic club I belong to in school, I have never come across an individual who was not willing to lend a helping hand when called upon. That says a great deal about the truly important unbridled spirit of Kentucky: the spirit of kindness."
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