Volume 1, Issue 1, June 1998
ISSN 1096-4886 http://www.westerncriminology.org/Western_Criminology_Review.htm
Crime Victims and
Restorative Justice in Juvenile Courts:
Judges as Obstacle or Leader?
Citation: Bazemore, Gordon. 1998. "Crime Victims and Restorative Justice in Juvenile Courts: Judges as Obstacle or Leader?" Western Criminology Review 1(1). [Online]. Available: http://www.westerncriminology.org/documents/WCR/v01n1/Bazemore/Bazemore.html.
The central role of crime victims in restorative justice creates a number of dilemmas for offender-driven justice agencies. Neither the traditional juvenile justice response to youth crime focused on the "best interests" of the child nor the new retributive emphasis provide a role for crime victims as recipients of service or participants in juvenile justice. Based on the results of focus groups with juvenile court judges and victims of juvenile crime in four states, this paper presents qualitative findings on judicial support and resistance to the idea of the victim as a "client" of juvenile justice and a coparticipant in the justice process. The implications of restorative justice for reform in juvenile courts are also examined.
Keywords: juvenile courts, judges, crime victims, restorative justice, juvenile justice reform, focus groups, juvenile crime, balanced approach
According to restorative theory, justice is best served when the needs of victim, community, and offender are met and each is involved in the process to the greatest extent possible. An essential and important insight of the restorative approach is that the practices, programs, and processes that best address the needs of the victim and the community are often the same ones that ultimately serve the "best interest of the child." According to advocates, the restorative justice perspective has the potential to elevate the status of reparative programs and practices and victim needs. Hence, the practical importance of the movement in juvenile justice toward a restorative justice framework and a "balanced" intervention model is that it appears to place the victim squarely within a restructured mission for juvenile justice (Bazemore and Umbreit 1995b). In doing so it creates a context and incentive for change which makes the role of crime victims central to the juvenile court mandate.
Some have suggested that the informality in juvenile courts and the public support for alternative responses to youth crime make the juvenile justice system an ideal setting for restorative justice experimentation (Bazemore and Umbreit 1995a). As of the summer of 1997, a dozen states had adopted legislation incorporating the language of restorative justice and/or the balanced approach mission, and a number of others had adopted legislation or policy referring specifically to this mission and/or restorative justice as a guiding implementation philosophy (Bazemore 1997a; Klein 1996). While these jurisdictions vary substantially in the level of administrator and policymaker understanding of and commitment to restorative justice reform, several states (e.g., Pennsylvania, Montana, Idaho, and Minnesota) are investing heavily in implementation of restorative justice policy models by initiating specialized training, strategic implementation planning, and pilot programs. With few exceptions (e.g., Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges' Commission 1997), victims and victim advocates have not, however, been meaningfully engaged in these developments. As with previous initiatives related to victim issues, the target audience for these efforts has thus far been limited primarily to probation staff.
In tension with and in opposition to these experiments in juvenile restorative justice reform is the movement of many other juvenile courts toward a criminal court, desert-based approach to intervention. This has brought a more dominant role for prosecutors, mandatory and determinate sentencing guidelines, and less emphasis on rehabilitation in juvenile codes and policy statements (Feld 1990). The move toward retribution has challenged the once absolute dominance of the treatment or "best interests" mandate of the juvenile court. There is little evidence, however, that this has brought any benefits to crime victims (Bazemore and Umbreit 1995a; Elias 1993). In fact, there is strong support for the view that the most recent reforms in juvenile justice, based on the new "punitive paradigm" (Cullen and Wright 1995), may be diverting funding away from victim services (as well as additional offender services) and into support for more and larger secure facilities.
JUDGES AS GATEKEEPERS TO RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
In the absence of consistent and wide reaching legislation, one way to effect changes in the juvenile court may be through the judges. Judges act as gatekeepers, and exert critical influence over procedures, court management, adjudication, decisionmaking and dispositional priorities and protocols in juvenile court. Moreover, judges are best situated to exert leadership on behalf of crime victim services in the juvenile justice system and in the community. They may also enhance court capacity and improve staff willingness to provide victims with more sensitive treatment. At the same time, judges also experience strong constraints as a result of recent changes in the structure of juvenile courts and juvenile justice systems (Bazemore and Feder 1997; Edwards 1992).
Judges have been left to defend the individualized treatment ethos of the juvenile court in the face of new laws that have mandated more punitive approaches and usurped court jurisdiction (e.g., Bazemore and Feder 1997; Feld 1990). Judges have adapted to this dilemma in a variety of ways, for example, by focusing attention on internal court management issues, on detention intake, or on extending the child advocacy and community leadership role of the court and juvenile court judges (Bazemore 1994a; Edwards 1993). Some research has documented this latter trend toward judicial community activism (Bazemore, 1994b; Rubin, 1985). Becoming an advocate for the interests of victims of juvenile crime, however, has not yet been articulated as part of the role of the future juvenile court judge.
While some juvenile justice decisionmakers have strongly endorsed restorative justice ideas (Edwards 1996; Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges' Commission 1997), other juvenile justice advocates have expressed concerns about whether the court can accommodate the needs of victims and manage their involvement in the court process (Hurst 1997; Torbet et al. 1997). According to recent research, circuit court judges assigned to the juvenile bench give lower priority to victim satisfaction and reparation relative to more traditional intervention goals (Bazemore and Feder 1997). Judicial resistance to victim concerns, or ambivalence about the victim's role in court, may be a function of the historical mandate of juvenile court and the policy crisis now threatening the survival of juvenile justice systems around the country (Bazemore and Umbreit 1995a; Lemov 1993). Even in the context of these competing pressures, there is no evidence that juvenile court judges are, as a group, antagonistic or insensitive to victim needs, or that judicial support for victims is necessarily associated with the punitive values of the new juvenile court (Bazemore and Umbreit 1995a; Feld 1990).1
The purpose of the present study is to closely examine one perceived source of judicial resistance--the lack of opportunity for dialogue between judges and crime victims. Using a unique qualitative research design that incorporates both victims and judges, we address a number of key questions. Can the juvenile court change to meet the needs of crime victims? Can a system that has traditionally been closed open itself to victim involvement? Can the court strike the balance between the needs of victims, offenders and communities that restorative justice advocates view as optimal? To understand the nature and implications of judicial response and possible intervention, we examine how judges and victims of crime in four states perceive one another, the justice system, and restorative justice principles and practices.
Survey and interview methodologies have a vital place in improving understanding of the perspectives of judges (e.g., Bazemore and Feder 1997) and crime victims (e.g., Umbreit and Coates 1993). To allow both judges and victims to engage and explore issues of victim involvement, victim services and the value of restorative justice interventions in greater depth, however, this study provided a format to elicit more complex and open-ended responses to questions and promote dialogue. The dialogue desired was a discussion between judges and their colleagues and also between judges and crime victims. These goals, as well as the multiple-action research objectives of the funding agency for this project, seemed to be best accomplished by designing a series of focus groups to be held during one-day forums in each of four states. The states were chosen because of recent or pending passage of new victim rights legislation for the juvenile court and new juvenile codes or policies adopting balanced and restorative justice.
Focus groups are increasingly recognized as a valid and potentially rigorous qualitative methodological procedure by criminal justice researchers (e.g., Griffiths et al. 1995; Maxfield and Babbie, 1997). As a form of group interview aimed at capturing collective sentiments about issues generally too complex to be reduced to questionnaire or interview formats, focus groups are especially useful in exploratory studies and can also help researchers define key issues for further investigation. Although often confused with "brainstorming" or other discussion forums, when implemented according to strict research protocols, true focus groups can be viewed as qualitative case studies (Yin 1994) that provide a unique form of contextual data. Like any other rigorous research approach, achieving qualitative external validity with focus groups requires systematic attention to issues of sampling, interview format, procedure, analysis, and inference.
Sampling and Recruitment
The selection of participants for focus groups is almost never random (Krueger 1988; Stewart and Shasmadi 1990). One reason for this is that the parameters of populations are generally unknown. Moreover, bias is likely to be inherent in the process of relying on a group of self-selected participants. More importantly, a focus group is comprised of a homogeneous group of respondents who share a common interest, experience, or characteristic that is more important than their statistical representativeness. In addition, focus groups permit purposive sampling of categories of participants who represent subpopulations of theoretical importance (e.g., Yin 1994). The mix of participants in focus groups therefore depends on the theoretical or policy purpose.
In this study, strategic considerations limit the ability to generalize findings but ensure that the results take on practical significance.2 First, we sampled four states that were either adopting or had recently adopted new victim rights legislation, as well as policy and/or statutes based on balanced and restorative premises, in their juvenile justice system. Second, we sampled one geographic region of each state. This regional emphasis helped promote a more focused dialogue by limiting diversity due to system administration issues while allowing for rural/urban variation.
Judges in predefined geographic regions of each state were identified from lists provided by judicial training organizations of eligible judges in the circuit courts. A letter was mailed to the judges by the project director. A member of the research team called the judges to determine their availability. Fortunately, this method generated a list of judges more diverse in terms of gender, age, and ethnicity than one might have expected given the proportion of middle-aged and older white males assigned to juvenile courts nationally. The final participant group of 20 judges included three black females, five white females, one Hispanic male, one Native American male, and ten white males, ranging in age from forty to sixty-seven. Most importantly, judges were also reported by local advisors to differ substantially in political and sanctioning philosophies. Judges also differed in their views of crime victims and the victims' role in the court, although this was not known in advance.
The sampling frame for victim focus group recruitment consisted of all juvenile crime victims whose cases were closed in the year prior to the group meeting in each circuit court region. Using criteria developed by the research team, local victim advocates screened cases to identify a final pool of eligible victims who were diverse in race, gender, age, and type of offense. Of these, a group of seven potential participants were selected in each state based on their willingness to participate and a decision by victim advocates that the participant would be able to do so without adverse consequences. This procedure did not produce a random group of victims, but it is common in focus group research (Krueger 1988). It also did not appear to introduce the kind of bias that might have resulted if advocates had sought out only those victims known to be publicly critical or positively disposed toward the juvenile court. Only two victims were known personally to advocates or system professionals prior to the focus group -- in one instance because of the advocate's involvement in the victim's case, and in the other because of the subsequent involvement of a victim in providing victim awareness classes for offenders.
Judging from the participant groups that emerged, screeners did an effective job of maximizing participant diversity and avoiding harm to victims.3 The final list of eighteen participants included nine victims of violent crimes. These included a badly burned victim of arson, three parents of murdered children, two robbery victims, and two rape victims. Property crime victims included seven participants whose homes had been burglarized or vandalized, an owner of a small business whose store was burglarized, and two victims of auto theft and/or auto vandalism.4
The daily format for each focus group included time for judges and crime victims to work separately in break-out sessions, for report-outs to the larger group, and for group dialogue and discussion about differences and similarities in the perspectives of judges and victims. Each session began with a welcome by a local judge or other host for the session, introductions of the focus group moderators and the research team, and introductions of judges and victim participants. Victim participants described their experiences with the juvenile justice system. To set the context for the focus group discussions, participants were presented with a brief overview of victims' rights legislation in their state and principles and practices of restorative justice.5 Each of the judicial break-out groups was moderated by a former judge, and each of the four respective victims' break-out groups was moderated by a victims' advocate. Judicial and victim break-out groups had the same moderator in each of the four states.
The discussion guide used in break-out groups consisted of parallel sets of questions, with some slight variation for each group. Deviations in wording or format permitted judges to consider more technical legal and practical issues influencing services to the victim at different stages of the court process; the victims' groups could discuss the related issue of what services and responses they would like prior, during, and after the court process as part of a meaningful continuum.6 All sessions were tape recorded and later transcribed and coded into content categories within each general section of the focus group protocol.
For purposes of this study, comments in the break-out and general sessions were sorted into categories based on the discussion question addressed. Because judges frequently digressed from the topic at hand, however, some comments in a particular session were more relevant to questions posed in later or earlier sessions. Thus, except when part of an ongoing dialogue, quotes are presented not in linear form but rather under the appropriate conceptual category. For the most part, all comments pertinent to the specific question being addressed are included in this paper. An effort was made to represent the diversity of topics covered and opinions expressed. Comments that digressed from the topic or repeated earlier themes are excluded.
While the presentation of dialogue is an attempt to illuminate the disparate voices of both judges and victims, the biases of the research team come through in the questions we chose to ask in the discussion guide. These questions assumed that crime victim needs should be an important consideration in any court or justice system. In addition, our interpretation and critical analysis of participant comments and rationales recognizes the possibility of juvenile court reform and the potential value of restorative justice policies and practices. But we remain objective in reporting overall findings, both by presenting dissenting views and by attempting to place what might be viewed as "insensitive" comments of judges in the context of other demands and pressures on the juvenile court.7 To protect the identities of participants' and avoid painting a biased or pejorative picture of the views of all judges, for purposes of this paper the four states are identified as States 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Crime victims viewed the juvenile court and justice system experience in almost uniformly negative terms. With the exception of a husband and wife whose son was murdered and who believed they had been treated well by the court, the nearly unanimous conclusion of victim participants was that there was a lack of respect for their dignity as human beings and little in the way of court acknowledgment of them as victims. In its mildest form the perceived lack of respect was generally inadvertent and seemed due to a lack of either time on the part of juvenile justice professionals or understanding of the victimization experience. In the most severe cases, however, victims were accused of lying, told that they were being inappropriate or vindictive, and were denied even the most basic information about their cases. Stories varied, from episodes recognized as unfortunate but commonplace to most participants, to tales that involved abuses by juvenile justice professionals that evoked shocked reactions from focus group organizers and judicial participants.
Numerous judges and citizens are aware that the experience of crime victims with courts and justice system agencies is often unpleasant. However, the reasons for chronic dissatisfaction are not well understood by many juvenile justice professionals. Judges' perceptions of the victim experience in juvenile court are critical to the court's openness to viewing the victim as a client. On the whole, these judges were sympathetic with the plight of victims--some were highly empathetic. However, judges in each state identified distinctively different sources of victim frustration and expressed differing views regarding the need for judges to know more about this frustration and of the responsibility of the court to crime victims.
What Victims Need and the Court's Role in Meeting Those Needs
Victims were unanimous in their view that the most important expectation they had of court professionals was to be treated with respect. This expectation was manifested especially in the voiced desire to be trusted with information about the crime, the offender, and about what options the court might consider in responding to their case. A second priority for victims was the opportunity to be heard, and to have input into the court's decisionmaking process. Their need for restitution was important, but if these initial needs for respect, information and input were addressed, restitution decreased in urgency. Interestingly, most victims expressed little interest in punishment for its own sake, but were more concerned that juvenile justice professionals follow through with their commitment to hold offenders accountable with regard to restitution or other reparative actions. On the other hand, most judges seemed surprised to hear a strong victim interest in offender rehabilitation; some participants, including victims of violent crimes, had also gotten personally involved in offender treatment programs.
As leaders in the juvenile court, judges have the power to prioritize services and modify processes that affect victim satisfaction. Their beliefs about what victims want and need, as well as about the role and responsibility of the court in meeting these needs, are therefore of great importance. In State 1, for example, the dominant theme among judges was that victims were misinformed about both the role of the court and its limited capacity to meet perceived victim needs. At times this was expressed as a sense of frustration:
Sometimes I think about myself in the courtroom, especially when I deal with the victim, as in the construction trade--particularly heating, venting and air conditioning...I feel like my restitution hearings are my chance to sit there and allow the victim to vent...A lot of times that's all I can do...the prosecutor has not told the victim that this child is from a welfare family, so don't expect to get restitution paid.
Judges in this state often expressed feelings of helplessness in responding to victim needs and expectations, ranging from restitution to services and related information. Some felt "set up" by their prosecutor, and abandoned by a probation department under the control of an executive branch that they considered to be incompetent in collecting restitution.
Often a dialogue that began with a discussion of the victim's experience and needs was redirected to a discussion of the overwhelming problems of juvenile offenders, such as the perceived need for more specialized treatment programs to manage a growing number of highly disturbed juveniles who lack the capacity to understand restitution and their obligation to victims. In one state, judges responded to a variety of victim concerns, including failure to receive restitution, by lamenting the weakness of punishment alternatives for offenders, including their lack of authority to detain offenders for crimes that do not meet mandated policy criteria. While this response was at times an attempt to educate victims about appropriate use of secure facilities, including detention, it also suggested a belief among some judges that the absence of a threat of confinement--rather than a low priority given to restitution enforcement and collection--was the source of the problem.
Judges reported that they see and hear from very few victims. Judges agree, however, that when they hear from victims and their advocates the message is often negative. Some also feel that victims do not often belong in court because they are emotionally incapable of participating in the process:
...a prosecutor will come in and say, the victim wants to be present (at disposition). Sometimes what they [the victims] want is not what you're going to do. You have to explain to them. Every time they say there is a victim in the courtroom, I panic! [judge emphasis] You're very lucky; you've got rational victims here--those we had this morning [referring to the focus group participants]. But I've had many occasions to call security in because the victim is upset. And the fact that I had just sent this kid away to a level eight [locked secure confinement program], barbed wire fences with razor wire on top, doesn't mean anything to them. They (victims) still want their pound of blood.
When a victim advocate participating in this session responded that the few victims who engage in such emotional outbursts in court have not been properly prepared for the process, this judge responded: "I don't see that; I just thought they were so emotionally involved they were unable to be rational." While no other judges vocalized such a strong concern about the presence of victims in the court, others expressed reservations about a victim's capacity to understand the court process and to participate with rationality and respect.
The more sympathetic or responsive judges expressed a desire to make their court process more user-friendly to victims and were open to community-based restorative justice alternatives to court processing, such as victim-offender dialogue. However, others expressed the view that most victims do not really want to participate and attempted to identify victim frustration as negligence on the part of victims. In discussing court backlogs and postponement of hearings, for example, one judge insisted that:
I want to be fair about this delay thing. Seventy-five percent of it is delay caused by the victim...victims not showing up for the court hearing, and the prosecutor is asking for continuances because our victims aren't here.
Perhaps the most negative comments attributed victims' complaints to questionable or unethical motives. Defending the court's role as impartial arbiter of the facts, one judge observed that:
...Sometimes victims come in and they are not always telling the truth. That is why we need a system that determines truth. Unfortunately, that system designed to determine truth will hurt the person (the victim) because lawyers will ask questions in a hurtful way. My job is to educate the defense bar to act [civilly] toward the victim.
Another judge agreed with the first, and then added: "We have some victims who are more dangerous than our offenders."
In one state focus group, a responsive, warm, and meaningful reaction to a victim who had been abused at virtually every stage of the system set a very positive tone for much of the day's dialogue. In this particular state, several judges quickly acknowledged to participating victims that they were often in the dark about the victim's experience in the juvenile justice process because they were "isolated" from it. These judges viewed the lack of, rather than the presence of, victim participation and input as a problem for them and the court. Moreover, they were more likely to emphasize court process and management, rather than victim attitude and behavior, as the primary source of victim dissatisfaction with juvenile justice. From this perspective, the court and the juvenile offender need to hear the victim's story, which is best told by victims themselves. One judge notes that having victims speak at dispositional hearings is a great opportunity for offenders and others present to hear first-hand about the damage caused by the crime, but that it rarely occurs. In State 3 one judge noted that approximately one victim per month provides a statement in court.
These more pro-victim judges and others in the group also noted that their colleagues were also often "too arrogant" to simply take account of and acknowledge the victim's experience. Furthermore, in one judge's view, reducing the frustration level of victims with the court process is not necessarily something that takes a lot of time:
If you read the statement and you look at the victim and you say I really appreciate your taking the time to fill this out and this must have been a terrible thing that happened to you...and I'm sorry, that is all that matters. Even if there is no effect on what you do and you're not changing your mind, it is really important...I think it makes the judge's job a whole lot easier...victims rarely complain about sentences when they've had the chance to tell the judge and the judge says "thank you" for your input.
Ranking of Victim Needs. Several key needs were ranked highly by judges in all of the focus groups: notification about hearings and court processes, restitution, and safety. As noted previously, these needs also received very high priority with victims and were a major focus of their discussion in break-out groups.
Perhaps because it has been a visible component of juvenile court dispositions for almost twenty years and is the most tangible response to crime victims available in the juvenile justice system, the need for efficacy in monitoring and collecting restitution probably received the most attention in the judges' groups. Judges in general acknowledged court responsibility in ensuring restitution to victims, although they often faulted probation and/or other juvenile justice staff for their failure to collect restitution.
A consistent theme addressed extensively in two judges' groups was the lack of education given to victims about the court process. This was believed to lead to unrealistic expectations about the court process, which in some groups appeared to be the dominant problem. Victims agreed that the court process remained a mystery to them. (Indeed, in two groups victims expressed appreciation to judges for explaining various aspects of the process to them.) Victims concluded, however, that the failure of the court to meet their needs and treat them with sensitivity and respect had more to do with the culture of the court and competing priorities of juvenile justice professionals' than with their lack of education about court procedures.
One State 4 judge echoed what a number of victims have confirmed about the importance of restitution. While the value of restitution to victims often varies by socioeconomic status, it often assumes exaggerated symbolic significance because:
Restitution represents all the other stuff...it's not really always so important, but it's the tangible thing...and an awful lot of victims living in poverty and who don't have insurance ...for them the car won't be repaired.
However, at another point, this same judge expressed the view that relative to other offender-focused responsibilities, the court places too much emphasis on restitution, observing that:
We're doing a good job (with restitution), but we're spending a hell of a lot to do it...[in fact] we spend so much trying to collect, it would be better if we just had a state fund to pay the victim back directly.
Most judges acknowledged that their courts, and other courts they were familiar with in their states, do a poor job in the restitution collection process. While many were also aware that restitution was not the only concern victims had, the symbolic importance heightened their concern that courts improve this very tangible aspect of the juvenile justice response to crime victims. Victim notification, information, and input, for example, received highest rankings among judges in these states. As one State 2 judge put it, notification is "the [court's] nonverbal communication with the victim...the most eloquent way...to let them know that their participation is important." In addition, judges in States 2 and 3 discussed dignity and respect as critical in all court interaction with victims. State 2 judges added the need to be more respectful of the time of crime victims--an issue that was reported as among the most frustrating by many crime victim participants.
Perceptions of the Appropriate Role of the Court in Meeting Needs.There was persistent interest in groups concerning the appropriate role of the court in meeting victim needs. In State 1, for example, judges said that the court was responsible for ensuring that victims were provided with a central place to report and get information about victims' rights, that victims of domestic violence could get assistance in obtaining an injunction, that victims not be "badgered" in restitution hearings, that victims are notified ahead of time if a plea is being negotiated, that victims experience part of the process and have input on plea and dispositional hearings, and that a "practical monitoring system is available to victims for restitution." Interestingly, another court responsibility in this state was said to be to:
Train juvenile justice [the independent department responsible for probation, disposition and residential placements] on victims' issues, because there is a whole mode of thinking there...there are so many issues that they don't understand and one of them is restitution...I do a restitution order and sometimes I think they just throw it away, that they are really not going to spend time on it...they don't think about money coming in and restitution being collected.
Although the list of court responsibilities in this state was more extensive than most, the line of argument here--though more critical of the probation function because in this state probation officers work for the executive rather than the judges--was about placing boundaries on the court's role in addressing victim needs. More to the point:
The judge, I think, has a limited role [although it] is becoming bigger. I wrote down [in response to the moderator's probe about the court's role] helping victims understand the process, notice of subsequent proceedings, referrals to mediation and victim services. I would like that to be our role but a lot of time we have to take on a greater role than that [returning to probation critique]...to me that's a system's issue [in that department] that is top down...people at the bottom feel inundated, and they don't feel empowered.
You can say it's not my [the judge's] job to notify, but I want to make sure, and that the victims have an opportunity to say something...If they aren't here, why? We can still afford decent status to them.
On other occasions, judges seemed to assume that what victims described as practical access-to-information problems, poor treatment by the court, or redundancy in the court's information collection process were a result of victim ignorance of due process. For example, in response to a victim's question about why he had received repeated requests for the same information from police, prosecutors, defense, and other court representatives, one judge responded somewhat defensively as follows:
You are a victim of the Constitution. How do you translate that [your complaint] into "the judge isn't doing a good job?" He is seeing you for the first time to have your day as the victim in court...ninety-nine percent of the time we won't know anything about what you have been through, what you've done, what information you've given to police...we don't know that.
...I'd be very careful about changing the Constitution [because it] has actually created a certain balance...we want to make sure that when government asserts power that it asserts power in a fair manner with due process...we are trying to develop power to do things for the victim, but our power is really to do things to the juvenile. We can send the child to a state school but we want to make sure the process is an accurate process and that is what Constitutional protection is all about...I would hate to lose some of those protections.
Perhaps realizing that the victim in this dialogue was in fact questioning management of the court process, rather than the Constitution or due process, this same judge then made a statement about the court's role and concluded by acknowledging that:
...although we [have to try] to keep someone from being convicted when they shouldn't be, if we manage the overall system better, we are able to give them [victims] more dignity, quicker process and to give them some reasonable restoration at the end, and you don't have to trash someone's constitutional rights to do that...As a system, we haven't emphasized that at all. We owe you that [looking somewhat puzzled, the victim noted his agreement with this statement] (emphasis supplied).
In other states there was somewhat less discussion about the court's role, although in State 4 there was a strong effort to assign the bulk of responsibility to prosecutors and victim advocates, especially for notification issues. In response to another question about whether the court should keep victims informed of restitution payments, it became clear that judges were ambivalent, if not highly resistant, to expanding the court's role with victims:
How much money are we going to allocate to a limited pie even in [State 4]. How much are we going to allocate to doing these 'feel good' things?
[Response from a more supportive judge]: Remember the Gideon case?...the argument there was how much it was going to cost the states to provide defense counsel [emphasis ours]...Remember that? And we are doing it today
...But we are talking about staff that does not exist and we are talking about states that do not send money with their mandates...I want a probation officer before I want a community service group [or victims' advocate].
[Third judge:] The truth is that the more notification you give, and the more input you have, the slower the court system will go, which means more money, more time, more delays, more kids who won't show up. And less justice. And the victims will not show up either.
Commitment to providing victims' services also varied widely among these judges. Some viewed it as their job to press for a range of services through the court or other agencies. Others questioned the value of the court's support for victims, such as a judge who argued (in a discussion of separate waiting rooms) that victims deserved no special treatment:
I don't want to sound anti-victim. However, whether they are punitive victims, etc.... anyway at the early stages, we know that somebody has hurt them. But the idea that they are entitled to all sorts of special treatment because they have special status ...Many of our victims are also offenders...I live in a working class community...trailer park kids, low-end apartment kids. Setting up these special room categories (crime victims) for them just does not make sense to me. By the way, our county board has to spend the money and then the property taxes go up. This is not first priority when someone is running for county commission.
In contrast, despite the same fiscal and political considerations, judges in State 3 view waiting rooms both as a right and high priority for judicial advocacy. Indeed, one State 3 judge reported threatening to hold his county administrators in contempt unless they agreed to build a new separate waiting area for victims. In this state judges also gave high priority to providing special services for victims such as rape counseling, crisis intervention, referral, and general advocacy. Although not all of these services should be provided by the court, more than one judge argued that it was the judge's responsibility to ensure that funding is provided for them at the county or state level. Judges in States 2 and 3 were the only groups to acknowledge that gaps in these basic services may be the most debilitating to victims.
While generally agreeing that information and input were important to victims, State 4 judges expressed very different feelings about the court's responsibility in addressing victims' needs and sources of victim dissatisfaction. In their list of victims' needs, these judges also emphasized victim understanding of due process, having a good relationship with the prosecutor, safety, and having the opportunity for "spiritual resolution and catharsis." In this group, the needs of victims were at times reduced to symptoms of assumed underlying psychological problems, as when a participant argued that:
One thing we should address is whether or not we should provide therapeutic services for the victims...victims come in with their emotions and they want to let loose in the court system and I want to consider if this is what the court should provide.
[Another judge in this breakout group summarized victim needs as follows:]
What do they want? They want a piece of the offender...Everyone comes in with their own agendas which makes it very hard. Recently, I had a kid who was acquitted, and the mother of the victim was so cruel...she wrote me a nasty letter...I mean this is the kind of stuff we are dealing with; she even went to the judicial standards committee.
Another judge, challenging what he viewed as "unfounded" victim concerns, observed that:
Sometimes it's just the split side of the crime. Many times the victims know the perpetrator. I was struck by the man downstairs (a victim focus group participant) and his need for safety...his fear of retribution. We know the chances are minuscule that it will ever happen (emphasis supplied).
Ultimately, the discussion in this State came to the conclusion that what victims felt they needed--for example, spiritual resolution or safety--could not be provided by the court. In contrast to the victims' stated desire to be treated with dignity and respect, this was not mentioned by judges as a need the court might address until after a second probe by the moderator as to "whether the judges wished to list it." A judge's response was: "If we don't rank it a 10, we'll look like idiots!"
Judges Rate Court Effectiveness. How well does the court presently meet victim needs? After prioritizing services in terms of their importance to victims, judges were also asked to rate (on a ten point scale, with one low and ten high) their courts on how "well we are doing now" in providing services. In general, judges admitted that their courts were not doing well in providing the services to victims that they considered most essential. In State 3, for example, after agreeing on the importance of information, replacement of loss (restitution, property, emotional), services, and victim dignity, judges gave themselves a three on notice and information to victims, a two on restoring loss, and a "0" on dignity (noting the difficulty of providing this in an unfriendly system). On special victim services, however, their courts rated a "7" for victims of violent crime, but only a "2" for victims of nonviolent crime.
State 4 judges gave themselves equally low ratings in most of their victim priority needs with the exception of restitution, but they spent a great deal of time debating the role of the court and the limited prospects for improvement. Ironically, while safety was given a high ranking, two judges insisted that the court was "incapable of ensuring victim safety." Similarly, State 1 judges admitted that the system was not doing well in meeting their priority needs for crime victims, but focused their discussion on how to make juvenile justice workers (especially probation) fulfill their responsibilities regarding notification and restitution.
The Victim as Client or "Customer" of the Court and Juvenile Justice System
Many citizens and victim advocates believe that the crime victim should be viewed as a client or customer of the justice system. As discussed in the applied literature of restorative justice (Bazemore and Washington 1995; Dooley 1995), the idea of victims as clients has two dimensions. First, client refers to a member of a group who must be viewed as a legitimate recipient of service by an agency. Because this idea has not been part of the traditional ideology and mission of juvenile courts, the judges considered a set of questions about whether the victim is viewed as a client, and what this would mean in terms of expectations for the court. The second meaning of client comes from the literature of total quality management and reinventing government (Martin 1993; Osborne and Gaebler 1990). It defines a client as an active customer who is expected to be involved in the decision-making processes of an agency (Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges Commission 1997). Using the latter meaning of client we asked the focus groups a number of questions about the role of victims as participants in various parts of the court process.
Victim participants were unanimous in their view that the victim should be a client of the juvenile court. Although the victim's role is often limited to that of witness to the crime, and victims emphasized that "the victim role should be his or her choice," participating victims agreed that they had much more to offer in the way of relevant information that needed to be heard in court. Several victims pointed out the need for their roles to be defined by agency policy, in addition to state law. The lack of consistency in victims' roles was directly linked to the lack of consistency in both juvenile justice practices and related victims' rights across jurisdictions within states and the absence of a "unified system."
The general consensus among participating judges was that the victim is indeed a client of the juvenile justice system and has some role in juvenile court. The distinction is an important one because the court in various jurisdictions may include various agencies and staff, ranging from the judge and clerical assistants alone, to the judge, probation and parole, a range of special programs, and even victim services. All judges were more comfortable with the notion of the victim as a client of the system as a whole than of the court in this most narrow sense of the term. In every state judges expressed the view that the court itself was responsible for accommodating certain victim needs (e.g., notification, impact statements) and ensuring that victims are invited to participate in the process. For a vocal minority of judges, providing basic services, including information, to victims was a moral and ethical requirement as well as a statutory obligation.
Judges and victims talked about issues that arise with victim involvement in family court. These include the perceived challenge to judicial impartiality presented by victim involvement in the court process; the points in the process at which victims should be allowed to participate; and how much information should be available to victims.
The Challenge to Judicial Impartiality. A key concern in much discussion was whether victim accomodation would threaten judicial impartiality. For example, a State 1 judge who was asked if he viewed the victim as a client of the juvenile justice system responded as follows:
Sure, but I can't get involved with making the victim my client or I lose my impartiality...the victim is a consumer of the judge just the same as the defendant is...do you agree with me that it will look awfully funny if letters are going out on letterhead to victims telling them that they need to prepare their case, gather information, and be at the hearing? I don't think the criminal defense lawyers would think that way..The reason they pay us the big bucks is so we can stay in the middle and we are only shifted by the facts. Once you start claiming the victim is a client or customer you lose neutrality.
This comment suggests a view of clients as adversaries. This may have led to a misplaced fear that victims want to take the place of the prosecutor in the process, or perhaps retain their own counsel as a third party. Indeed, in the report-out from the judges' first break-out session in this state, this idea was expressed as a view that victims were "the state's client."
Of all the judges, those in State 4 appeared most uncomfortable with the idea of victims as clients in any sense of the term. In general, State 4 judges limited victim input to disposition. Even at this level, there were many more restrictions mentioned than in other states and a belief that the court has only one client:
...This does not mean my role is to be an advocate of that juvenile...my role is to be neutral but the focus is [still] on the juvenile. The focus is on ensuring due process for that juvenile in the adjudication...the focus remains on the juvenile in the disposition phase...and certainly the victims are "players" or "stakeholders" in the process and [the victim] has to be honored as a player, but I see the one and only client as the juvenile and the juvenile's family...we need to keep the focus on them.
The Nature and Amount of Victim Participation. Beyond concern with whether or how the victim is viewed as a client are more specific questions about the nature and especially the amount of victim participation that is desired by both crime victims and system professionals. The role of victims as participants in specific components of the juvenile court and justice process (e.g., diversion, disposition, etc.) was discussed in both victim and judicial breakout groups. Victims viewed input as desirable and important at every stage of the juvenile court process if the victim was willing to participate. Judges' opinions varied within and between state groups. Their discussions examined the desirability of victim input, the most efficient ways to obtain input, and the nature of input desired. The bulk of discussion, however, focused on the relative appropriateness and usefulness of input at different stages of the process.
There is a great deal of variation between states concerning when a victim should become a client. In States 2 and 3, judges scarcely questioned that there should be some role for victims at virtually every stage of the process. Some State 1 judges, on the other hand, were uncomfortable with the view of victims as a client prior to adjudication and disagreed about the role of victims in plea bargaining. Overall, however, judges expressed surprisingly little opposition to victim involvement in pre-adjudicatory stages of the process. While involvement was generally viewed as "input but not discretion," as one judge put it, the surprise was that at these front-end points in the process, guilt has not been formally established (e.g., at diversion, and at preadjudicatory detention). While judges in States 1, 2, and 3 bemoaned the fact that case processing protocols made it difficult to provide victims with opportunities for involvement prior to court hearings, they were generally receptive to the idea that victim input would be valuable even to prosecutors and intake workers considering diversion, plea bargaining and secure detention.
Several State 4 judges, on the other hand, questioned both the feasibility and value of notifying victims to allow input prior to adjudication.
I mean these kids are arraigned within a short period of time after arrest. It would be impossible to notify the victim. And the truth is that most kids plead guilty at that initial appearance.
[Question]: "Do you mean (speaking to moderator) you would have to delay this because the victims have not been notified?"
[Answer from another judge]: "That would be absurd and it would bring the system to a standstill." [Point made by the judge that only domestic cases in her court might result in an arraignment being delayed unless the prosecutor has contacted the victim.]
Regarding detention, judges' in State 4 focused objections on both the relative benefit to victims and system impact:
[Moderator]: What about detention?
You have a balancing. If you notify the victim, the victim is going to come to a hearing that deals with nothing but detention. Then they come to a pretrial where we spend two seconds setting a trial date. By the third hearing, they're not going to show up anymore... or they come down and somebody's sick...or whatever, and the victim loses all that time and then they get mad.
The victims are saying that (they make) repeated appearances at these hearings and nothing happens. Then one day everything happens and they are out of the loop.
At the disposition phase, there was little disagreement with the idea that victims should have at least some role. Most of the discussion revolved around who was responsible for notification and how the process could be improved, given the low rate of victim participation. For some judges a primary concern was that victims be prepared ("lowered expectations" was a term used more than once) for the possible outcomes in a dispositional hearing. Notification was presented as a tremendous problem in jurisdictions where collapsed adjudication and dispositional hearings are frequent. In some courts, according to these judges, arraignment hearings may be used to accomplish a variety of other court objectives, including much of the work of adjudication and disposition. In States 3 and 4 the brief time between hearings and key decision points creates problems for adequate notification.
The victim impact statement assumed much greater importance than expected. Somewhat surprisingly, judges almost unanimously reported reading these statements quite carefully and relied on them for their information on harm done to victims. While most judges viewed good written victim impact statements as important to dispositional decisionmaking, some judges reported that the written statement often seemed bland. As one judge put it:
Impact statements have become so routine that sometimes they seem canned...they seem too clean and homogenized, so that they don't really have the 'impact' we think they should have.
To compensate for this weakness and go beyond what could be provided in even the most well-written victim impact statement, several judges report that they value the input of "live victims," especially for their potential effect on the offender and others in the court hearing. For various reasons, these judges felt that this input was far too rare. One judge exclaimed that he had grown tired of hearing that there was no time for verbal statements by victims:
There is time if we just build in opportunities for it...often it only takes two or three minutes...and it's worth it because the victim needs to ventilate whether or not the judge needs the extra information.
Availability of Information to Victims. Surprisingly, concerns about confidentiality in dispositional proceedings, anticipated to be a "hot button" issue for judges in every state, received relatively limited attention among judges and was raised as a concern in only two states. In State 2, judges expressed concern that some information was sensitive, but trusted that judicial instructions to keep these materials confidential would be enough to ensure that offenders and families would be protected. Similarly, when judges in State 3 briefly discussed confidentiality, it was in response to the moderator's probe about it, and the discussion itself took the form of how judges could use their discretion to get around what on the surface appeared to be prohibitions against openness at the dispositional phase. Moreover, one State 2 judge responded as follows to a colleague's comment that victims should not be allowed to "run the system:"
I think this confidentiality is nonsense. We all know that people who want to know are going to find out. We'd be much better off to open it up and be as inclusive as we can.
On the other hand, in State 4, the issue was discussed in a very different way. In a general group dialogue, with both victims and judges present, a judge raised the issue of the need to prohibit victims from hearing certain information about the offender's background:
There is another important factor that you have in juvenile court, that of confidentiality. And the problem with victim input when we are talking about a juvenile who may have been [sexually] abused, chemical dependency, psychiatric evaluations, is that it cannot be the same as adult court because that information is confidential, and no victim is entitled to know. Especially in the non-public hearing...even in public hearings, we get to kick the public out when we get to speaking about psychological evaluations during hearings...and no statute has taken away that confidentiality.
Following the objections of several victims to this statement, a participating prosecutor informed the victim participants that they were "not entitled to this personal information," and was seconded by a judge who argued that "these families are ashamed, and they don't want victims to hear everything." In response, a victim observed that the juveniles who burglarized her home "found out everything about me and my family." Others commented that crime victims weren't interested in "gossip" about juveniles and their families, but did want access to information such as prior records, how decisions were being made, and what might have motivated the offender to choose to harm them. Another judge concluded this rather lively interchange by lamenting that in his view, no matter how much he and his colleagues try to protect confidentiality, "in [this state], we're going to open it [the dispositional process] up--we're just crazy enough to open it up."
Prospects for Reform
Judges identified barriers to reform, considered strategies for improving the court response to victims, and evaluated several restorative justice practices as part of an overall plan for court reform. Because these discussions address concerns about whether restorative justice can improve the status of victims of juvenile crime, they are briefly summarized below.
Obstacles To Victim Satisfaction. Barriers to meeting victims' needs include a variety of bureaucratic constraints including poor communication between juvenile justice officials, difficulty in scheduling, the poor quality of victim impact statements, inconsistent notification, and the failure to adequately include victims and the community in the process.
Although court delay was mentioned, it was often actually offender-related issues that consumed resources and attention. In State 1 especially, discussion focused on problems with offenders, ranging from the lack of treatment options, to judges' inability to use detention and other punitive options to enforce compliance with court orders. Too often, the concern with the lack of punishment options seemed to link advocacy for repairing harm to victims with "getting tough" on offenders rather than improving court management and system accountability (e.g., for collecting restitution).
In State 4, and to a somewhat lesser degree in State 1, the discussion of obstacles primarily focused on resources and unfunded mandates. Moreover, in these states, judges assigned blame to victims themselves for being uninformed about the process or engaging in inappropriate behavior and being emotional in court. More often, other system professionals (e.g., prosecutors, police) were blamed for creating false expectations. Courts were described as overwhelmed due to the volume of cases, but in two states judges learned ways from colleagues to set new court priorities to increase victim input, improve the flow of information to victims, and relax traditional confidentiality prohibitions that limited victim involvement and left the victim feeling uninformed.
Judges in the other two jurisdictions, however, viewed the primary barriers as a lack of leadership on the part of judges and a failure to set priorities. The need to promote and provide training on victim sensitivity and to change both the organization and "culture" of the court were discussed, as were specific problems with judges who remained overly protective of offenders and seemed obsessed with confidentiality. As a State 2 judge insisted, judges can choose to have the authority to both set a tone for changing the culture of the court and restructuring court management to ensure that victim needs are met. A State 3 judge raised the systemic problem of compartmentalization in court and other juvenile justice system components as a primary barrier to reform. In his view, what was also needed was a "blurring" of professional roles so that--in a more ideal world--judges, prosecutors, defenders, police, probation officers and other professionals would all operate from a core set of values which encouraged both victim and offender advocacy.8 This judge reported that new judges are the most "rigid" of all juvenile justice professionals but that they can become more flexible (and less fearful of being viewed as victim advocates or community leaders) if senior judges encourage them, and as they gain more experience. Likewise, judicial rotation (which ranged from once a month to once a year) was viewed as an obstacle. This judge also saw "loosening up the adversarial system" and increasing community and victim participation in sanctioning as a key.
Some judges believe restorative justice practices and processes are a primary vehicle for addressing barriers to victim satisfaction, whereas others view them as desirable alternatives but not necessarily required to increase victim satisfaction.
Rating Restorative Justice Practices. Because restorative justice practices are in part intended to address victim needs for involvement and healing, participants in each focus group were given brief descriptions of several restorative justice interventions and asked to discuss and individually rank them in relation to their benefits to crime victims.
So long as participation was voluntary, crime victims were strongly supportive of restorative practices. Judges, however, were equivocal in their support.
Judges were often uninformed about various restorative justice practices with the exception of restitution/community service. Although many were familiar with victim-offender mediation, they were much less familiar with more recent versions of the mediation model (Umbreit and Stacy, 1995) and restorative community conferencing models. The most highly rated restorative practices in all states were those that provided work opportunities for offenders to allow for payment of restitution. Examples considered for replication by several judges involved restitution, work programs, community service, and victim impact panels. Only judges in States 2 and 3, however, seemed to link restorative practice directly to the victim needs they had previously discussed.
In States 2 and 3 judges began with the premise that victims need to get information, to be heard, and to receive needed services. Hence, victim notification was most highly ranked, and was viewed as the the key to the success of anything else the court attempted to do to meet victim needs. Similarly, effective victim impact statements were viewed as critical to informing the court and system about victim needs. In addition, effective victim services, coordinated by strong victim advocates, were viewed as essential in helping victims overcome traumatization (rankings of nine to ten on a ten point scale). Other practices received mixed support, with more traditional practices such as restitution, community service (with a restorative focus involving victim and/or community input), and paid public work programs receiving relatively high ratings among these judges (scores of five to seven). Victim awareness education was ranked surprisingly low, perhaps because it was misunderstood (two judges seemed to equate victim awareness with victim-offender mediation). Victim awareness education is a component of offender treatment programs, which often involves asking surrogate victims to tell offenders about their experiences.
Family group conferencing (Braithwaite and Mugford 1994) and victim-offender dialogue--restorative processes that allow victims, offenders, and their significant others to discuss their crime and develop reparative dispositions outside the formal court process--were being piloted in some parts of each state, except State 1, but were relatively unfamiliar to most of these judges. These processes were ranked relatively low (from three to eight on the scale), perhaps for this reason. In addition, the discussion around these mediation and dialogue alternatives brought strong objections from two judges in State 2, who had been relatively silent for much of the day. These judges expressed reservations and resistance to efforts to bring victims and offenders together:
My gut goes against the whole concept...there is just nothing the offender can say to help the victim. I don't trust them (offenders) to say the right thing. Also, what the victim might do is an unknown.
In response, another judge, experienced in mediation and conferencing, expressed strong disagreement with this view, explaining that his colleague's statement revealed a common misunderstanding of these processes and their goals. Noting that prescreening can take care of offenders who may not be prepared for a meeting with a victim, this judge expressed the view that disposition may well be the best time for victims and offenders to talk (in an informal restorative justice context). Indeed, when victims want such a meeting, and when trained personnel conduct them in community based settings with input from victim advocates, such dialogues were in his view "almost never inappropriate."
Another judge expressed doubt that the offender would benefit from meeting the victim, noting that, "the kids I see wouldn't be helped by putting a face on a victim...their remorse is shallow." This judge appeared to view victim-offender meetings primarily as a type of therapy or education for the offender and went on to insist that:
Victim satisfaction is misleading. They [victims] think they have helped the offender, but victims don't have the skill to communicate that to kids...treatment staff are better able to communicate that...this [mediation] just gives kids a false sense of power.
In contrast, State 3 judges ranked restorative practices very highly. This is also a state where restorative justice practices and processes were being used rather extensively by two quite vocal judges. While notification and impact statements were also ranked a ten, reparative boards, victim-offender dialogue, and family group conferencing received ratings of eight and above because they were viewed as potentially good for victims. State 3 judges saw restorative processes as an important avenue for much more extensive and less formal victim input into court decisionmaking about diversion and disposition (which in this state was viewed as currently insufficient). One judge reported that his mediation program provided the most effective victim input. He insisted that without it he would be limited to the infrequent and often sterile, cold and impersonal victim impact information typically provided by professional personnel in the court setting. These supportive judges also expressed some concerns about standards for implementation, however, and felt that it would be difficult as one participant put it, "to get certain players (e.g., other judges and prosecutors) to give up enough power" to allow these processes to flourish as a real systemic alternative to disposition.
Judges in State 4 were in many ways a case in point. In this state, where various conferencing models were being widely piloted, restorative justice was viewed as more than just a theoretical possibility. These judges were the most negative of all in their response to conferencing and mediative processes and community reparative boards, but their opposition went beyond concerns about their possible negative impact on victims and offenders. They also perceived a real and growing threat to the courts' discretion over dispositional decisions.
State 4 rankings of victim-offender dialogue, reparative boards, and family group conferencing hovered at around six, perhaps because staff and community members in several of these judges' districts were actively implementing these practices. Judges raised several concerns about how to protect both offender and victims from the "tyranny of the majority." Several of these judges expressed strong fears that community involvement in disposition would erode due process and court protections. In addition, the discourse around restorative alternatives to court processing betrayed a great deal of fear and concern about the implications of citizen involvement for the power and authority of the court (Bazemore 1997b). For example, in an opening session one judge asked questions following a brief description of reparative boards, circle sentencing and conferencing:
Who is this "community" we are talking about here and who empowers them to speak? Are the members of these [reparative boards or circles] really an "elite"?
[Answer by moderator]: Members can include anyone who has a stake in the outcome of the response to this crime.
Judge: We operate under a Constitution and laws. I'm concerned about abdicating that responsibility...about giving it to someone else who may really represent a mob.
[Response from moderator]: There are guidelines for all of these processes, and they are not about determining guilt or innocence.
Judge: We play havoc with the Constitution when we do that...Our concern is to have a uniform public policy...I'm very concerned if this circle [or other community process] will set conditions of probation, the violation of which will have potential consequences.
[Public defender, agreeing]: This [community involvement] stuff doesn't make much sense because where I work, these kids don't have any community...they are transient, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, school to school almost constantly.
In the private dialogue about practices in this most oppositional judges' group, judges expressed even stronger doubts about community involvement in disposition, or any decisionmaking process. One judge who gave reparative boards a rank of five revealed both an unclear understanding of and a deep general opposition to the objectives of such initiatives:
"If this involves community members discussing what [sanction] an offender is going to get, I'd rate it a zero!...I'm uncomfortable with [letting the community] do anything that labels people." This statement was neither challenged nor corrected by his colleagues, and a public defender who observed the session was positively received when she added that "all of this must be ordered or done on a strictly volunteer basis."
Judges in State 4 focused primarily on obstacles to accomplishing basic, traditional court services, which they felt were compromised because various directives had been imposed on them by the legislature. For them, victim rights and restorative justice were very much "on the scene" and perceived as yet another top-down policy requirement. The State 4 response must also be seen in the context of a national attack on juvenile justice generally and the traditional mission of the juvenile court specifically. These judges, who spoke for other less vocal judges in defending this offender-focused mission, may have also lumped victims' rights and restorative justice in with efforts to criminalize the juvenile court and efforts to associate victims' rights with being anti-offender or opposed to rehabilitation. As one judge in this state expressed to victims in the final dialogue session, the bottom line is that:
Our discretion over resources and the rest of the system is pretty much gone [we have no control over the police, prosecution, disposition, etc.]. On top of that, the legislature is constantly giving us unfunded mandates.
Today the very existence of juvenile courts is threatened and the role of juvenile court judges is changing. Fortunately, there is presently the motivation and opportunity to engage juvenile court leaders in a constructive dialogue about experimentation and reform that would have been considered radical, regressive or unnecessary a decade earlier. Moreover, these changes create an opportunity for crime victims and their allies to influence the direction of this transformation and the shape of the new role in a way that includes victim advocacy as a core component.
Judges in the four focus groups discussed both risks and opportunities associated with increasing victim involvement in the court and shifting priorities to better accommodate crime victim needs. Although restorative justice reform is not limited to changing the formal justice process, and not only to courts, change in court practices, judicial leadership and risk-taking will be necessary if restorative justice is to move from the margins to the mainstream of the juvenile justice process (Umbreit 1998).
Unfortunately, juvenile court decisionmakers may perceive that they have much to lose by moving their courts in this direction. As comments from a number of these judges suggest, restorative efforts to serve and involve victims raise many unanswered questions about the court's responsibility for meeting victim needs, ensuring fairness and uniformity, and protecting the rights of the accused as well as victims. More troubling was a resistance of some judges to reform that seemed based more on concerns about a loss of power or about perceived challenges in dealing with crime victims. However, as the positive response of some judges to restorative justice reforms suggest, courts and juvenile justice professionals may also have much to gain by transforming the focus of the court response to take account of the needs of victims and communities, as well as the needs and risks presented by offenders.
1. Attitudinal research based on a statewide survey of Florida judges found that support for a victim emphasis in juvenile court disposition is inversely related to judicial punitiveness (Bazemore and Feder 1997). Moreover, some juvenile court judges have shown leadership on behalf of crime victim concerns, especially in areas such as restitution and victim services (Schneider 1985; Armstrong, Maloney, and Romig 1988; Rubin 1985; Stuart 1995a)
2. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) does not typically fund pure research projects. The objectives of the current focus group project included: educating judges about crime victim needs, promoting ongoing discussions and collaborations between judges and victim advocates, and improving implementation of victim rights legislation and restorative policies. Strategically, the action research objectives of the funding agency for this project were to maximize opportunities for implementing improvements in victim services and promote continued dialogue between crime victims and juvenile justice professionals. These guided our decision to target one region of each state for victims and judges for focus groups. This also made it easier for victims to travel to the focus group site and enhanced the possibility of replication in other parts of each state.
3.One reason for using local victim advocates in the recruitment process was to maximize the degree of protection that could be offered to crime victims who might not be emotionally prepared. Advocates were instructed to exclude victims they felt might be adversely affected by the focus group experience. However, no victims were excluded for this reason. The research team attempted to randomly select victims from prosecutor and court administrator files but was unable to do so in three states.
4.The sampling protocol initially was intended to over-sample victims of property crimes since they constitute the bulk of crime victims who go through juvenile court. Many property victims are never heard from because their relatively less serious cases do not merit the scarce resources of victim advocates. The research team sought to avoid an exclusive focus on victims of violent crimes. The moderator did this by focusing on the court experience of and calling on property crime victims, frequently by name. In addition, violent crime victims generally encouraged victims of property crime to tell their stories and present their perspectives.
5.Prior to the session, each participant also received a letter and package of background materials that included a short definitional statement on restorative justice and a list of restorative practices, information an victims' rights legislation pertaining to juvenile crime in that state, and a description of balanced and restorative justice legislation or policy in that state.
6. Victims were asked a parallel set of questions in separate break-outs. We briefly consider victim responses for comparison purposes in the conclusion of this paper and occasionally describe dialogue sessions in which victims and judges exchanged views on specific issues.
7. Portions of the dialogue became more pro-victim in two states because of the deference granted to a judge in each group who had been a leader in promoting victim services. In another state, two dominant judges set a much more critical, if not anti-victim, tone that was infrequently challenged by the other judges. However, even in these states polls of individual judges on various issues did not reveal wide disagreement. In more than one state, strong dissenting views were recorded on various issues, even though the dissenting opinions were often less well elaborated than the dominant view. Some bias is always apparent in any group setting where "politically correct" responses by public officials can be expected in response to new policies or statutes--especially in the presence of "outside experts" and local constituents. While some of this bias was apparent on the part of judges, both groups were invited to speak freely and critically, and each did so on numerous occasions.
8. This idea is not unlike the recent challenge of a State 2 victim advocate to probation managers in her state. This advocate, who now requires that her staff be trained on offender issues, suggests that probation must get away from specializing in offender needs and develop a core victim sensitivity and service capacity in all staff (Bender, 1997). Getting juvenile justice professionals to "wear different hats" is not as difficult as it sounds if judges would serve as a model for others. But as with all restorative justice reforms, there are risks involved when prosecutors try to see things through the eyes of public defenders or police, and when all system professionals try to see things through the eyes of crime victims.
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Gordon Bazemore is professor of Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University. His primary research interests include juvenile justice, youth policy, community policing, corrections, and victims' issues. He is the author of over forty-five journal articles, numerous book chapters and monographs on these topics.
Dr. Bazemore's recent publications appear in Justice Quarterly, Crime and Delinquency, The Justice System Journal, and the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare. He is currently editing a book entitled,Restoring Juvenile Justice: Changing the Context of the Youth Crime Response, forthcoming in 1998 with Criminal Justice Press. He has directed several recent evaluations of juvenile justice, corrections, and policing initiatives funded by the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Dr. Bazemore is the Principal Investigator of a national action research project intended to pilot restorative justice reform in several jurisdictions, which is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. He is also completing a project funded by the Office for Victims of Crime,U.S. Department of Justice, to study the attitudes of judges and crime victims toward victim involvement in juvenile court.
Contact information: Community Justice Institute, Department of Criminal Justice, Florida Atlantic University, 220 SE Second Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301.
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