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Washington, DC, Restitution Program

Ages 12-18

Rating: Level 3


The Washington, DC, Restitution Program is a postadjudication restitution program for juvenile offenders. Its premise is that restitution is effective only if a juvenile accepts responsibility for his or her offenses and is committed to the principle of making amends to the victim. The program is initiated after a presentence investigation when a probation officer recommends the youth either for incarceration or for probation. Those recommended for probation may also be placed into the restitution program. Participation is entirely voluntary. The program accepts only youths with at least one felony conviction.


This program participated in a multisite experimental evaluation of restitution programs used with juvenile offenders. Each program was conducted simultaneously in four different juvenile court jurisdictions: Boise, Idaho; Washington, DC; Clayton County, Ga.; and Oklahoma County, Okla. In all four sites, youths were randomly assigned to restitution or traditional dispositions (i.e., probation or detention). The randomization procedure differed from site to site, although all formulas were based on some combination of date of birth, a random number starter, and a final assignment—which allocated cases into groups in accordance with predetermined proportions. In Washington DC, if a youth was eligible for probation and randomly assigned to the victim–offender mediation and restitution program, he or she had the choice to reject the assignment in favor of probation. Forty percent of those assigned to the restitution group refused. When data was analyzed, this “restitution refused” group was combined with the restitution group and then with the control group to control for any biases. Participants were predominantly African-American and male, with an average age of 15. The evaluation compared recidivism rates—defined as crimes committed after entry into the treatment or control condition that resulted in contact with the county juvenile or adult court, excluding incidents resulting in a dismissal or not guilty verdict. Data was collected from juvenile and adult court records up to 22 to 36 months after assignment to restitution or control.


The multisite evaluation revealed that restitution provides a small but important effect on recidivism. Of the four sites in the study, two (Washington, DC; and Clayton, Ga.) produced findings in which the juveniles who received restitution had fewer subsequent contacts with the court during the 2- to 3-year follow-up interval. It was estimated that each of these programs produced 10 fewer crimes per 100 youths each year. Moreover, youth groups that received restitution from any of the four sites never had higher recidivism rates than those in probation or detention. However, it should be noted that not all programs may be able to achieve this effect, owing to program management, community circumstances, or other factors that influence program outcome.

Interestingly, the results from the Washington, DC, sample showed that youths randomly assigned to restitution had lower rates of recidivism than those assigned to probation, regardless of whether they participated in restitution. The researchers feel that this difference is due to the fact that those assigned to restitution were given the choice to say no. This involvement in deciding one’s future led to beneficial results for the “restitution refused” group.


Schneider, Anne L. 1986. “Restitution and Recidivism Rates of Juvenile Offenders: Results From Four Experimental Studies.” Criminology 24(3):533–53.