When managing your Restorative Justice program, manage your continuum of referrals.

I was going to be a TV news reporter.  I have always had a fascination and interest in why people do what they do.  I’ve always wanted to solve problems and I use my practical experiences to do that.  After working as a in-home family therapist, a social worker and a human services supervisor, I had some understanding of how people work, how the formal justice system works. 

Not all crime is reported. 

Sometimes the systems in place to help people can actually hurt them.

When I began as the Executive Director at SCVRJP I wanted to help Victims/Offenders and Community Members.  That is the restorative triad after all.  I knew something.  I knew that a number of people are victims to crime and sometimes that criminal incident doesn’t see a court room.  If they don’t get the person who harmed you, there are no “victim-witness services”.  Sometimes someone commits a crime and it goes unreported.  It could be fear of retaliation or embarrassment of being a victim.  There are a number of reasons why crime doesn’t see a court room.  Regardless, victims are hurt.

Therefore I try to balance my efforts and implementing and engaging referring agencies.  Here is a visual:


Direct from our community.  This requires a public awareness campaign.  This requires a reputation for being effective.  This is where victims can call your program and ask for help.  A family was referred our program, they didn’t want the juveniles involved going directly into the system.  We addressed the case, people volunteered to be part of it.  It was slightly frustrating because I saw people wanting what they didn’t have.  Some parents of the offending youth didn’t feel they had their “day in court”.  What they didn’t know was that it would have been several days.  They would not have had their day, as much as being part of the flow of the process.  As a facilitator I had to accept where people were at and support the concerns that the case did not go through the formal process.  We had a powerful process and I believe the issues have been resolved.


This referral comes directly from law enforcement or from the front line.  There is a willingness by people in the formal system to trust your restorative work.  This requires engaging these people of influence and developing relationships that reinforce the diversion was a good choice.  Diverting cases to restorative justice means that the formal system turns it over, diverts it from the formal route.  This can be done with formal options pending a failed restorative justice process or lack of engagement participation by the parties involved.  At this level victims may or may not engage, usually this is an offense viewed as lesser in the eyes of the formal system, likely it involved property crimes and not crimes against people.  Property crimes have a big impact on peoples perception of community it is important to seek out serving your community on these kinds of cases.

Alternative response 

This is referral that includes the formal system.  Alongside restorative justice might be a deferred agreement or a fine.  The formal system is viewing restorative justice as a partner.  This requires your restorative justice program to meet the courts needs and perspectives.  You may now also be having to manage victims that have may be disillusioned with the formal response.  Families of juveniles can be slightly frustrated at this point.  Often times a great deal of time has passed since the incident and people are feeling like they want to get things “over with”.  Communication with the referring agency is important to manage, they want to know the offender has completed everything.  As a restorative justice program, you are working on victims and community needs as well.  Managing a restorative justice program and offering only these kinds of services doesn’t fully engage the community and work to transform the formal system, like the entry points to the left.

Court Ordered

As part of a formal response, restorative justice is now required of the offender.  This might also include when restorative justice is offered in prison settings.  In my experience little victim participation at this end.  Those that do participate make a great deal of influence in any case, at any point.  People are tired and frustrated at this point, actually I can get tired when cases come at this end.  For example, I am already working with a young man.  The incident we are addressing is also in the formal system.   I suspect he will be sent back to SCVRJP for a service.  It will be awhile, 7 weeks between his first court hearing and the next.  The incident happens, it goes all through this process and comes back to SCVRJP.  I hope we might be able to go from incident to response sooner someday.  Court ordered restorative justice means people will have to pay for your service.  SCVRJP makes a portion of revenue by our Victim Impact Panels, as a requirement to get your driver’s license back, you must attend. 

It’s important to manage your program and take cases of all shades.  Howard Zehr posted a blog highlighting that restorative justice will be restorative when all victims have access, regardless of the offenders being in court.  I agree.