The Effect of Group Conferencing on Youth Recidivism and Elements of Effective Conferences: A Between-Group Comparison and Within-Group Variation Study
Mr Robert Bonett1, Dr Caleb Lloyd2, Professor James Ogloff2
1Swinburne University of Technology
2Swinburne University of Technology and Forensicare
Problem: Group conferencing is a widely used judicial mechanism address youth crime, commonly associated with the philosophical framework of Restorative Justice. However, the evidence-base for the practice is largely limited to studies of lower-risk young people and essential crime reductive elements are unclear.
Objectives: We examined the longitudinal effect of group conferencing on ongoing recidivism likelihood among a sample including higher-risk young people. We also examined the relationship between different conference elements and subsequent rates of recidivism, specifically investigating victim, police, and family participation in the conference process.
Methods: We retrospectively gathered criminal histories of 2,366 young people processed through the Children’s Court of Victoria between 2010 and 2018. We used two types of repeated-event survival analysis to model between-group differences, controlling for individual propensity for recidivism and both static and time-varying predictors. We explored variations in the likelihood and rate of recidivism associated with conference elements among a subsample of conference completers.
Results: Group conferencing was associated with substantive reductions in the likelihood of future recidivism (24-40% reduced likelihood). These effects were consistent across crime types. Further, conferences attended by secondary victims and police informants were associated with the largest reductions in post-conference recidivism, compared to conferences with primary victim participation only. Importantly, recidivism rates associated with victimless conferences did not differ from conferences attended by a primary victim.
Conclusions: Group conferencing is an effective mechanism to reduce recidivism among at-risk youth and positive gains can occur through different forms of victim participation. Although limited by retrospective design, this study demonstrated that Restorative Justice research can be advanced by re-assessing core-assumptions about recidivism and adopting life-course methodologies.
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