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Community Panels

Also called Community Restorative Boards, and Neighborhood Accountability Boards

A community restorative panel/board typically is composed of a small group of citizens, prepared for this function by intensive training, who conduct public, face-to-face meetings with offenders referred by police departments or courts to participate in the process. Typically panels and boards work well with offenses when it is difficult to obtain victim participation or when a victim is more difficult to identify. Often the community as a whole can serve as the victim; however, whenever possible, victims should be included in the process. During a meeting, board members discuss with the offender the nature of the offense and its negative consequences. Then board members develop a set of proposed sanctions which they discuss with the offender, until they reach agreement. Subsequently, the offender must document his or her progress in fulfilling the terms of the agreement. After the stipulated period of time has passed, the board submits a report to the referring agency of the offender's compliance with the agreed upon sanctions. At this point, the board's involvement with the offender is ended.

One innovative example of the use of community reparation boards is the Reparative Probation Program, initiated in 1996 by the Vermont Department of Corrections with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The department was spurred to develop the program after seeing the response of Vermont citizens to a public opinion study, conducted in Spring 1994, which indicated broad support for programs with a reparative emphasis and active community involvement.

Goals

The goals of community restorative boards include:

  • Promoting citizen ownership of the justice system by involving them directly in the justice process.
  • Providing opportunities for victims and community members to confront offenders in a constructive manner about their behavior.
  • Providing opportunities for offenders to take personal responsibility and be held directly accountable for the harm they caused to victims and communities.
  • Generating meaningful "community-driven" consequences for criminal actions that reduce a costly reliance on formal criminal justice processing.

Implementation

Community reparation boards have primarily been used with offenders convicted of nonviolent and minor offenses. Based on the experience of the Vermont program, the following factors have been identified as important elements of implementing a successful community-driven reparation board program:

  • Having a committed, well trained staff.
  • Working with victim organizations, and ensuring that victims are represented and provided adequate opportunity to participate.
  • Processing cases expeditiously and in a manner that is simple for community members to understand.
  • Facilitating a positive experience for the board members.
  • Providing quality training for the boards.
  • Supporting the program with adequate resources (e.g., space, time, and staff).
  • Striving for initial successes for offenders, victims, and community participants.
  • Getting support from judges in limiting the time the offender is in the program and on probation.

Lessons Learned

Data evaluation should include victim and community responsiveness and satisfaction, as well as factors such as recidivism, community beautification and indicators of healthy citizen relationships within the community. At this point, experiential and anecdotal information show much promise for community reparative boards as an effective response to nonviolent crime.

Practices