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Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of those harmed by criminal behavior, those who cause the harm, and the larger involved community. When done most effectively, restorative justice is a community-based approach to accountability, safety, and healing. It strives to answer the questions of:

  1. Who was harmed?
  2. What do they need?
  3. Whose obligation is it to meet those needs?

Unlike the traditional criminal justice approach that often focuses on punishment and labeling conduct, restorative justice achieves accountability by offenders taking responsibility for their actions, understanding the harm they have caused, and providing an opportunity for redemption.

Restorative justice has been shown to reduce recidivism and produce greater satisfaction for victims of crime. As such, restorative justice strategies have the potential to improve public safety and better meet the needs of those harmed by crime. Because restorative justice may reduce future re-offending, it also has the potential to reduce the use of detention as many youth find themselves incarcerated due to repeat offending.

King County Juvenile Court currently employs several restorative justice programs that encompass varying restorative approaches.

Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS)

FIRS is a restorative process designed specifically to address the unique harm caused by inter-familial violence on the part of youth against family members. Children who cause harm are immediately placed in respite care and victims are engaged in a way that meets their needs. Resources are provided upstream with the goal of healing the family and ending the violence. Many of the youth and families who go through FIRS are connected to the Step-Up Program, a skills-based group intervention for youth and their parents/caretakers that focuses on non-violence and respect between family members. Since the launch of the FIRS respite center in July 2016, more than 400 youth have avoided juvenile detention booking and connected with effective interventions without criminal charges being filed.

Go to the FIRS page.

Restorative Mediation

A partnership between King County Juvenile Court and King County Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution that employs a victim-offender mediation model, facilitated by a professional mediator and youth mediator. The victim and offender are brought together to address the harm that was caused and to arrive at an agreed action plan for the youth to bring healing to the situation. A youth who successfully completes the action plan earns a “case benefit” from the prosecutor that often results in a dismissal of the charges. 24 youth have potentially avoided detention and had their cases reduced or dismissed through the Restorative Mediation program since launching in 2015.

Read more about restorative mediation.

Peacemaking Circle

A restorative circle practice adopted from the Tagish Tlingit Tribe originating from the Yukon Territory of Canada. This traditional circle ritual and structure are used to bring healing to the community after harm has been caused. Peacemaking circle is a practice of deep listening and storytelling to build trust and strengthen relationships. It helps create a space that lifts barriers between people, opening possibilities for connection, collaboration, and understanding. Rather than back-and-forth dialogue, the process invites learning that comes from the collective wisdom of the room.

Peacemaking circle employs a process that may include a series of healing and talking circles for the offender and the victim, culminating in a sentencing circle involving the larger community and systems representatives that may include the judge, juvenile probation, defense counsel and the prosecutor. Follow-up circles within the community are used to monitor progress and to provide continued support.

To date, King County Juvenile Court has piloted four serious felony cases through this intensive, community-based intervention. Three of the four youth successfully completed the program and had no new juvenile filings during the time of their participation. Two of the three graduates avoided lengthy Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration sentences as a result of their successful engagement. In addition, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office successfully piloted the “Young Warrior Program”, a shorter circle intervention that involved a three day intensive Peacemaking Circle training followed by three months of individual mentoring and case management. Eight juveniles, most charged with felony firearms possession, were invited to participate. Six successfully completed the three day training and went on to graduate the program. To date, there have been no new juvenile filings on any of the graduates.

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