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Community Over Punishment: Lessons of Restorative Justice

Here is a recent example of a Restorative Justice case that is providing a second chance for first-time juvenile offenders in Fairfax County:

A classmate snapped a secret photo of the student and posted it on social media with a disparaging comment. The photo went viral among this classmate’s online network. Another student offended by the posting, reported it to the administration, and demanded that something be done. The parents of the student were interested in accountability and for the classmate responsible to learn the action’s harmful effects.

A restorative justice conference was facilitated by NVMS, made possible through the Fairfax County Alternative Accountability Program (AAP).  Present were the student who became a social media target,  and the parents, the classmate who took the photo, the school assistant principal, and the student who reported the posting. The latter represented other students who were furious about the photo. During the RJ conference, the classmate responsible began to comprehend the harm that the presumed “wouldn’t it be funny” action caused and listened to the effects the secret photo and its online posting had on others. During the discussion around repairing harm and restoring relationships, the student who reported the social media posting advocated for some community service in addition to an apology, even though the parents were satisfied with that outcome. In the end, the classmate responsible for the harm voluntarily agreed to send an apology on the same social media channel used for the original post and wrote about lessons learned during the conference.

In the end, the classmate who created the harm, as well as the person harmed and the parents, along with the students who were distressed at the treatment of their classmate, and the school administration, found a much more restorative outcome than would have occurred with standard disciplinary punishment for the student responsible for the harmful action.

AAP is offering a response to juvenile crime that is proving to be more effective than traditional diversion for the appropriate cases. By doing this through an alternative approach, the AAP supports community/social networks and keeps youth engaged in their communities in response to crime, leading to more positive behaviors and healthy relationships as a result. The data below has been provided by the Fairfax County JDRDC.  

AAP Restorative Justice Cases Completed in:  Youth w/ New Charges w/in 6 Months of Completing AAP Youth w/ New Charges w/in 12 Months of Completing AAP 
FY 2018  (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018) 4% 8% 
FY 2019  (July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019) 6% 8% 
FY 2020 (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020) 1% 1% 

NVMS Conflict Resolution Center is the nonprofit partner for Fairfax County Alternative Accountability Program (AAP), which includes the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relation District Court, Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services, and Fairfax County Police Department.

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