Restorative Justice for Juvenile Delinquency: The Case of the Interstate 205 Rock-Throwersby Marty Price, J.D.
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. 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.
Marty Price, J.D., an attorney and social worker turned to mediator, is the founder and director of the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) Information and Resource Center, in Asheville, North Carolina. He is the founder and former director of the VORP of Clackamas County, Oregon. He is a former Board Member and former Co-Chair of the Victim-Offender Mediation Association (VOMA), a non-profit, international, educational and advocacy organization that promotes restorative justice and supports victim-offender mediation and reconciliation programs.
The Center provides information, training, public education, technical assistance, consulting and victim-offender mediation and reconciliation services. We serve non-profit organizations, governmental agencies and individuals. The Center specializes in juvenile justice and the mediation of drunk driving fatality cases and other crimes of severe violence.
Our mission is to bring restorative justice reform to our criminal justice system, to empower victims, offenders and communities to heal the effects of crime, to curb recidivism, and to offer our society a more effective and humanistic alternative to the growing outcry for more prisons and more punishment.
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