Community Conferencing also called Family Group Conferencing
Family group conferencing involves the community of people most affected by the crime – the victim and the offender; and the family, friends, and key supporters of both, and members of the community impacted by the harm – in deciding the resolution of a criminal incident. These affected parties are brought together by a trained restorative justice practitioner to discuss how they and others have been harmed by the offense and how that harm might be repaired. The intent is for the those involved to be able to tell their stories, for the persons who committed the harm to understand the human impact of their behaviors, and for an agreement to be reached that will in some way begin to repair the harm that was caused. Those who have committed the harm most take responsibility for their actions although they do not have to express remorse. Participation by all is voluntary. All resolutions must be decided by consensus by all parties and submitted to the official responsible for the case (such as the judge).
- Provide an opportunity for the victim to be directly involved in the discussion of the offense and in decisions regarding appropriate sanctions to be placed on the offended.
- Offer the community a participatory role in the healing and restitution process
- Increase the offender’s awareness of the human impact of his or her behavior and provide an opportunity to take full responsibility for it.
- Allow both the offender and victim to reconnect to key community support systems.
Two studies below assess the impact of family group conferencing with young offenders. Conducted in New Zealand and South Australia, they included the following data:
- As a result of the Children, Young Person and Their Families Act that was enacted in New Zealand in 1989 and which requires broad national use of family group conferencing, far fewer young offenders appeared in court and received convictions compared to before the Act was introduced. There were between 10,000 and 13,000 court cases each year compared to 2,587 in 1990. Commitments of young people to correctional institutions were cut by over 50% following the act.
- An 86% offender compliance rate with the decision of the family group conference was found in the Australian study.