Restorative Justice For Juvenile Delinquency

This is the recounting of a juvenile offense mediation case, conducted by a Juvenile Court-sponsored
Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) near Portland, Oregon. The offense terrorized
many of the victims, causing minor injuries and substantial property damage. The results of the
mediation illustrate the healing and rehabilitative potential of this process for victims, for offenders
and for the community. I was the mediator.

The case involved three boys, 14 and 15 years of age, who thought it would be fun to throw rocks
at passing motorists from a perch on an Interstate Highway overpass near Portland. Ten victims filed
police reports’; there may have been other victims who did not. Miraculously, there were no
collisions and no one was seriously hurt. Auto body and glass damage was in the thousands of dollars.
The story was reported by local news media in the wake of a series of highway sniper shootings in the
Portland area.

The VORP mediation took place at the Juvenile Court, one evening about two months after the
offense was committed. All three of the offenders and nine of the victims participated in the face-to-face mediation meeting. Each participant had an individual, preparatory meeting with the mediator,
in the weeks preceding the mediation meeting. The victim who declined to attend was represented
by two agents from her auto insurance company. Another victim was accompanied by his insurance
agent. The parents of all of the boys were present.

At the mediation, the young offenders were shocked to learn the extent of the damage and trauma
they had caused as the victims, one by one, told of their shock, fear and anger. Their stories were
eloquent and moving. Many believed that they were being shot at and they described the impact of
the rock as “the glass exploding.” One man, ironically, a teacher of troubled high school students,
described “flooring it” until he was out of gun range and then stopping his car to “look myself
over and see if I was shot.” Another victim was being driven home from the hospital by his wife,
after major surgery. A few of the victims who had their children with them in the car described their
terror as the glass shattered “like a bullet” next to their child’s head. A question flashed through
the mind of a single mother who thought that she was being shot at. “If I am killed, who will take
care of my children?” There were tears in the eyes of the young offenders. Without exception, each
of the victims indicated that the chance to share their feelings with the offenders was important to
them, as was receiving restitution for their financial losses, but they had come to the mediation
primarily to have an impact on the lives of these boys.

One victim, a big, athletic young man, stopped his truck (which had a shattered windshield), picked
up a tire iron, and gave chase. He caught all three boys and turned them over to the police. Prior to
the mediation, the young offenders had confided in me that the thing which they most feared about
the upcoming mediation was facing the man who had caught them. One youth described the man as
“a cross between Rambo and the Terminator.” No one was more surprised than the offenders
when, at the mediation, he told the boys that he would not have hurt them; he had taken the tire
iron for self defense because he was afraid of what they might do to him. He continued to address
them. “I know who you are; you’re me, and I’m you, looking back at you in the mirror.” He
talked about his experience as a juvenile offender, his drug and alcohol recovery and about turning
his life around. He then shared his belief that God had placed him at the scene of this offense for the
sake of these three boys.

The mediation, which lasted more than four hours, produced results which I, as a new VORP
director, could not have predicted. (Later, with experience, I learned that such VORP mediation
results are commonplace.) An individual restitution contract was completed between each offender
and each victim. The contracts totaled less than $2,000 in monetary restitution, which was
considerably less than I had anticipated. The insurance company representatives did not want their
companies’ losses reimbursed; only the deductibles that their insureds had paid out of their own
pockets.

Many of the contracts provided that the youths would work off (in labor performed directly for the
victims) all or part of what was owed. Those victims expressed a preference for some work; they felt
that it would be a more meaningful experience for the boys than merely the payment of money.
Several of them also stated that the personal service agreements reflected their desire to have some
continued contact with these boys. One contract provided that the victim would supervise
community service work which the offenders would perform as part of a watershed clean-up and
restoration project. And finally, one contract included an agreement that the offenders would attend
church with the victims for a month of Sundays.

Perhaps the most moving result of this mediation was the connection that developed, before the eyes
of everyone in the room, between one of the offenders (who had grown up without a father) and the
man who had caught him at the scene of the offense. By the end of the mediation, they had agreed
that the man would become the offender’s unofficial “big brother.”

Post-mediation questionnaires indicated that all participants felt they had reached fair and satisfying
agreements, and expressed their opinions that justice had been done.

At the one-year anniversary of the mediation, all of the agreements had been completed, all restitution
(monetary and labor) was paid in full and none of the boys had returned to the Juvenile Court for a
new offense. The “big brother” and “little brother” were still getting together regularly.

                        author

Marty Price

Marty Price, J.D., a "recovering attorney" and social worker turned mediator, is the founder and director of the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) Information and Resource Center, in Camas, Washington. He is a Board Member and former Co-Chair of the Victim-Offender Mediation Association (VOMA), a non-profit, international, educational and advocacy organization… MORE >

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