The community conference is a meeting of people affected by behavior that has caused serious harm. The goal of the conference is to repair the harm and provide reconciliation for all participants.
During a community conference, those harmed get a chance to tell how they have been affected by the incident and those who have caused harm get a chance to understand the impact of their behavior on the victims and the community. Together, they collectively figure out how to make it right.
Most referrals are of youth and children who are involved in a significant conflict or have caused some harm to someone else.
All manner of issues. Bullying, harassment, fights, shoplifting, destruction of property, etc.
All parties voluntarily participate in a conference.
There are many benefits. Everyone gets a chance to have a say in deciding how to make a situation better. It provides a safe place to let others know how you have been affected by the conflict. You will have a trained facilitator assist you to resolve your own conflict, rather than relying on others to do it for you. If you caused harm, you have the opportunity to “make it right” and put this matter behind you.
Most of the referrals come from the court system (Department of Juvenile Services, State’s Attorney’s Office) or from Carroll County Public Schools. Private citizens are able to request the service for themselves.
There is one meeting, usually of 1 to 1 ½ hours duration.
Highly likely. A written agreement, signed by all parties, is achieved about 95% of the time. Surveys of participants after the conference show that well over 90% express a high degree of satisfaction to questions that include: “Did you think the conference was fair?” “Did the conference help to resolve the situation?” “Would you recommend a community conference to others?”
While this approach seems somewhat “new” as a way to resolve conflicts and/or settle justice complaints (charges), it actually is an “old school” approach common to most early societies. The emphasis on responding to harm by getting the person(s) harmed together with the person(s) who caused the harm and giving them the opportunity to resolve it is very old, tried and true.
No. Community Conferencing is supported by grants from the State of Maryland’s Administrative Office of the Courts and private donations.
All of our facilitators have been fully trained in the community conferencing model. Our current facilitators all had prior careers in education or juvenile justice.
“Restorative Justice” is a term that describes a way of looking at justice that emphasizes the harm that is done to victims, and the importance of the opportunity for the person(s) who caused harm to take responsibility for that harm and do what they can to “make it right”. This approach to justice is somewhat different than one that understands justice to be entirely about punishment. Community Conferencing, especially when it occurs in the context of a referral from the justice system, is an expression of Restorative Justice.
My son was brutally assaulted in school by this boy for no reason! He didn’t even fight back and he suffered a concussion from the beating. And the whole thing was broadcast over social media, so clearly it was planned!” Robert’s mother’s outrage and concern for her son was palpable. This matter had been referred for a conference by the juvenile court system in hopes that it could be better resolved than a formal court hearing.
When both families finally agreed to conference, it was held at a local church. I asked Eddie, the 17-year-old boy who had assaulted Robert to explain what had happened. He admitted the assault. He claimed that Robert had “picked on” one of his friends and he was defending the friend. The friend had also told him that Robert had been “telling everyone” that Eddie “wouldn’t do anything.” For sake of his honor, he “had to show people.”
Robert was clearly smaller than Eddie, and he denied that he had done anything to provoke Eddie. The two boys began to talk back and forth and a picture emerged of “Eddie’s friends” provoking the conflict and being prepared to videotape it and post on social media.