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Restorative justice conferencing or victim offender mediation for court-involved youth

Juvenile Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2023.  Literature review updated August 2019.
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Programs that rely on restorative justice principles aim to repair harm caused when a crime is committed and to hold individuals accountable. Restorative justice can occur at any point in the criminal justice system or as diversion from prosecution and the traditional adversarial system. The specific components of restorative justice programs vary, but can include restitution, community service, or victim offender mediation. In this analysis, we include only studies that focused on conferencing or mediation as the main component of restorative justice, often referred to as restorative justice conferencing, victim/offender mediation, or family group conferencing. Trained mediators facilitate a conference between the justice-involved youth, the victim (or a representative), and other community stakeholders to determine the appropriate restitution and reparation plan for the harm done. Mediation occurs in one day for approximately one and a half hours.

In this analysis, restorative justice conferencing participants were diverted from the traditional adversarial justice system. These studies represent mostly individuals assessed as low-risk for recidivism, often individuals who had first-time contact with the justice system for personal or property offenses (e.g., assault). Among included studies that report demographics, 61% were youth of color and 25% were female. Youth in the comparison group were not diverted from formal justice proceedings and received probation and treatment as usual services.

Key Terms

Court-involved youth: Youth who are processed through the juvenile justice system but who are not ordered to a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility. This includes populations of arrested youth, diverted youth, charged youth, adjudicated youth, and youth on probation or formal supervision.

Youth in state institutions: Youth who are confined in a residential or correctional facility when they participate in the program.

Youth post-release: Youth who are returning to the community following a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility and who participate in the program after release to the community.

For an overview of WSIPP's Benefit-Cost Model, please see this guide. The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2022). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers $368 Benefits minus costs $3,024
Participants $159 Benefit to cost ratio n/a
Others $704 Chance the program will produce
Indirect $694 benefits greater than the costs 78%
Total benefits $1,925
Net program cost $1,099
Benefits minus cost $3,024

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases. See Estimating Program Effects Using Effect Sizes for additional information.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
14 6 1145 -0.032 0.093 15 -0.032 0.093 23 -0.032 0.728
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Affected outcome: Resulting benefits:1 Benefits accrue to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime Criminal justice system $306 $0 $610 $153 $1,069
Labor market earnings associated with high school graduation $79 $185 $102 $0 $366
Costs of higher education ($17) ($26) ($8) ($9) ($59)
Program cost Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 $549 $549
Totals $368 $159 $704 $694 $1,925
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Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $367 2015 Present value of net program costs (in 2022 dollars) $1,099
Comparison costs $1,289 2015 Cost range (+ or -) 20%
The per-participant cost estimate for restorative justice conferencing was averaged from two sources: the victim offender mediation program operating in Clark County, Washington in 2009 and 2010 (E. Gillman, Clark County juvenile court, personal communication, October 18, 2010) and the weighted average per-participant cost reported for the Northumbria site in Shapland, J., Atkinson, A., Akinson, H., Dignan, J., Edwards, L. Hibbert, J., . . . Sorsby, A. (2008). Does restorative justice affect reconviction?: The fourth report from the evaluation of three schemes (Ministry of Justice Research Series). Sheffield, United Kingdom: University of Sheffield, Centre for Criminological Research. The comparison group cost, probation as usual, was estimated using the average length of stay for youth on local probation, multiplied by the annual marginal cost of probation from Section 4.2 of Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (December 2018). Benefit-cost technical documentation. Olympia, WA: Author.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Benefits Minus Costs
Benefits by Perspective
Taxpayer Benefits by Source of Value
Benefits Minus Costs Over Time (Cumulative Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in discounted dollars. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

McCold, P., & Wachtel, B. (1998). Restorative policing experiment: The Bethlehem Police Family Group Conferencing Project. Pipersville, PA: Community Service Foundation.

McGarrell, E.F., & Hipple, N.K. (2007). Family group conferencing and re-offending among first-time juvenile offenders: The Indianapolis experiment. Justice Quarterly, 24(2), 221-246.

Schneider, A.L. (1986). Restitution and recidivism rates of juvenile offenders: Results from four experimental studies. Criminology, 24(3), 533-552.

Shapland, J., Atkinson, A., Atkinson, H., Dignan, J., Edwards, L., Hibbert, J., . . . Sorsby, A. (2008). Does restorative justice affect reconviction?: The fourth report from the evaluation of three schemes (Ministry of Justice Research Series). Sheffield, United Kingdom: University of Sheffield, Centre for Criminological Research.

Strang, H., Sherman, L., Slothower, M., Woods, D.J., Barnes, G. (2015). Race and restorative justice: Preliminary report on 15-year followup of 3 RCTs, subject to further correction. A presentation to the Stockholm Criminology Symposium.