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Indianapolis Restorative Justice Project

Ages 0-14

Rating: Level 2


The Indianapolis (Ind.) Restorative Justice Conference Project is a diversion program within the Marion Superior Court Juvenile Division. The criteria used to determine eligibility for participation in the project require that a youth

  • Be no older than 14
  • Be a first-time offender (i.e., no prior adjudications)
  • Commit a nonserious, nonviolent offense
  • Have no other pending charges
  • Admit responsibility for the offense

The eligible charges include assault, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, shoplifting, and theft.

Once the case is eligible for a restorative justice conference, it is assigned to a conference coordinator who proceeds to contact the offender, his or her parent(s), and the victim(s) to assess the willingness of the parties to participate in a conference. A conference is then scheduled to bring every party to the incident together to discuss it. The conference generally includes not only the offender and victim but also a group of supporters. This will typically involve parents/guardians, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, friends, and neighbors but may also include teachers, athletic coaches, and other important figures in the youth’s life. During the conference, the coordinator guides the juvenile through a series of questions to decipher the events that led to the incident. Questions such as how the youth was involved, what the youth was thinking about at the time, and whom the youth thinks the offending behavior has affected are intended to help the youth accept responsibility for the behavior. The questions are also designed to help the youth understand how the behavior has affected the victim, the families, and the community. After everyone had had an opportunity to speak, the juvenile is asked if there is anything he or she would like to say to the victim. It is at this point that the juvenile usually will apologize to the victim and the group. The group then begins the process of agreeing to a plan that will allow the offender to repair the harm that was caused. This agreement may include restitution, community service, or other elements to address the specifics of this case. The final agreement that outlines the group’s recommendations is prepared and signed by all the participants.


The experimental design provided comparisons between victims, offending youths, and parents involved in conferences and those involved in other court-ordered diversion programs. Court intake officers screened youths for eligibility. Eligible youths were selected for the program through a random assignment procedure. From Sept. 1, 1997, to Sept. 30, 1999, 458 juvenile offenders participated in the program. Of these, 232 were assigned to the restorative justice treatment program and 226 were assigned to the control group. The control consisted of youths not selected for the restorative justice conference and assigned to 1 of 23 other diversion programs. The median age for both groups was 13 years, with 32 percent age 14, just over 26 percent age 13, and 40 percent ages 12 and younger. Sixty-three percent of the sample was male. In terms of race, 61 percent of the total sample was nonwhite, with the control group containing slightly more nonwhite youths (63 percent) than did the restorative justice group (58 percent). The study collected process and outcome measures from several sources, including conference observations, interviews of offenders, interviews of their parents or guardians, and a review of court records.


The key findings from this evaluation indicate that

  • More than 90 percent of victims participating in conferences reported that they were satisfied with how the case was handled. This compared with 68 percent of victims in the control group.
  • Nearly all the victims (98 percent) in conferences reported they would recommend this approach to a friend in the same situation. This compared with one fourth of victims in the control group.
  • Nearly all the victims in conferences reported that they were involved in the process (97 percent) and that they had the opportunity to express their views (95 percent). The comparable figures for control group victims were 38 and 56 percent, respectively.
  • There were not dramatic differences between offending youths and their parents participating in conferences and youths and parents in the control group.
  • Youths participating in conferences were much more likely to have successfully completed the conference and the terms of the reparation agreement (83 percent) than were youths involved in other court-ordered programs (58 percent).
  • Youths participating in conferences were significantly less likely to have been re-arrested 6 months after the initial incident. The rate of re-arrest was 20 percent for “conferenced” youths, compared with 34 percent for the control group, representing a statistically significant 41 percent reduction. When limited to those youths who successfully completed the diversion program (conference or control group program), 12 percent of the youths involved in conferences had been re-arrested, compared with 23 percent of the control group. This indicates a statistically significant 46 percent reduction.
  • Youths participating in conferences were also less likely to relapse 12 months after the initial incident. For youths involved in conferences, 30 percent had been re-arrested. For the control group the comparable rate of re-arrest was 42 percent. This represents a 29 percent reduction and is statistically significant. When limited to youths who successfully completed the diversion program, the pattern was consistent with other results, but the differences did not achieve statistical significance.


McGarrell, Edmund F. 2001. “Restorative Justice Conferences as an Early Response to Young Offenders. Bulletin.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

McGarrell, Edmund F., Kathleen Olivares, Kay Crawford, and Natalie Kroovand. 2000. Returning Justice to the Community: The Indianapolis Juvenile Restorative Justice Experiment. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hudson Institute, Crime Control Policy Center.


DeShawn Easley, Juvenile Diversion Program Manager
Reach for Youth, Inc.
3505 North Washington Boulevard
Indianapolis, IN 46205
Phone: (317) 920-5900
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

Julie Deckard, Juvenile Diversion Program Manager
Reach for Youth, Inc.
3505 North Washington Boulevard
Indianapolis, IN 46205
Phone: (317) 920-5900
Web site: