Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice

Can Juvenile Detention Centers Be Restorative?

August 23, 2017

In the fall of 2015, the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University was asked to assess the impact of restorative justice practice trainings held by the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice project (IBARJ) in four Juvenile Detention Centers (JDCs) in Urbana-Champaign, Vernon Hills, Rockford, and Peoria.

Juvenile detention centers are not known for their restorative approaches to youth misbehavior. Instead, youth are presented with negative consequences for their behavior, including the withdrawal of recreation time or isolation from other youth.

The JDC superintendents involved saw promise in restorative justice as a means to change their centers’ climate. Throughout the year, the IBARJ trained JDC staff to perform restorative practices like talking circles, check-ins, and restorative conversations with youth at the center. This year marked the second full year of JDC staff trainings.

Staff interviews as part of Adler’s evaluation revealed that the shift to a more restorative climate has impacted youth and staff relationships, making youth less likely to harm one another and more likely to see the impact of their behavior on others. However, challenges have been encountered in training all staff members and in maintaining the fidelity to restorative practices within the JDCs.

Other findings reveal that staff are making significantly greater attempts to connect with youth and to use these bonds to decrease the amount of conflict. This increased communication has led to greater respect of other youth and of staff. Young people are also reportedly more often trying to alleviate negative moods with each other without staff intervention, as well significantly reducing the frequency of teasing and being mean to each other.

Adler thought leaders discuss systemic racism driving the current juvenile detention environment and examine the pressing need for effective reform.

The problem with incarceration – Elena Quintana
A better way through restorative justice – Father Kelly from Precious Blood
Do the math: Justice reform is less expensive, more effective – Dan Cooper