Restorative Mediation making a difference for youth

Earlier this year, Juvenile Court implemented a Restorative Mediation Pilot option for youth in diversion. The pilot has since expanded beyond diversion and is now available to adjudicated youth. It provides youth with the opportunity to reduce time on supervision or in place of court-ordered community service hours.

Restorative Mediation is an opportunity for an offender to have a facilitated conversation with the victim, giving the victim an opportunity to express how the event affected him/her, to provide space for understanding what took place for both parties, and to restore relationships that were harmed as a result of the offense.

During the first week of August, the first restorative mediation was held at Juvenile Court and was more successful than anyone could have expected. The offense at the center of this first mediation was a Theft 3; the youth had shoplifted from a neighborhood supermarket. Participants at the mediation included the youth, two of the youth’s family members, two representatives from the supermarket, a mediator from the KC Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), a youth co-facilitator from Garfield High School, and two selected community representatives.

In the mediation the community and supermarket representatives explained that as the neighborhood supermarket affected by this incident is a co-op, shoplifting merchandise can force the store to raise their prices in order to absorb the loss. The youth came to understand that this one incident could impact all the many people who regularly depend on this store and its prices to feed their families.

With a new sense of understanding about the offense committed, the youth gave the store a formal apology in person and in writing that encouraged the store to remove him from a list of individuals prohibited from shopping at the supermarket. Additionally, as the restorative mediation process allows, the youth was able to express himself and his interests, specifically his passion for working on cars. Currently, one of the community representatives is helping the youth to enroll in Opportunity Skyway, a vocational school that offers a focus on automotive work.

Other extraordinary outcomes from this mediation include: the store is currently considering hiring youth to produce a PSA about co-ops; the mother of the youth considered the process so valuable she has requested similar services for her older son who is system-involved; the youth’s younger brother was present and attentive during the mediation process and was able to express his own feelings about how he was affected by the incident; and one of the community representatives organically forged a mentor relation-ship with the youth responsible for the incident.

ADR and Juvenile Court staff are aware that such seamless synergy may not always be the case for future mediations, but the process still looks promising. Another mediation is scheduled to occur for another offense in the next couple of months at a community location in Columbia City. Restorative mediation is one way King County is looking to transform juvenile justice in order to achieve sustainable productive outcomes for our youth.

(Originally appeared in Superior Court/DJA Newsletter, September 2015)