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Bethlehem, PA, USA

Wachtel, Benjamin and McCold, Paul. Restorative Policing Experiment: The Bethlehem Police Family Group Conferencing Project. Summary.
This paper updates preliminary results reported in 1996. (For that report, see the following. McCold, Paul, and John Stahr. 1996. "Bethlehem Police Family Group Conferencing Project." Paper, with preliminary results, presented at the American Society of Criminology Conference, Annual Meeting. Chicago, 20-23 November 1996.)This paper is an evaluation of a restorative justice program operated by the police in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a mid-sized American city. Although developed independently from the restorative justice movement, family group conferencing is considered an important new development in restorative justice practice as a means of dealing more effectively with young offenders by diverting them from court and involving their extended families and victims in addressing their wrongdoing. Originating in New Zealand in 1989, conferencing was substantially revised as a community policing technique in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia, in 1991. The 'Wagga model' was introduced to North America in 1995 by the Real JusticeĀ® organization.
Wachtel, Benjamin and McCold, Paul. The Bethlehem Pennsylvania Police Family Group Conferencing Project
This is a report on the Bethlehem Pennsylvania Police Family Group Conferencing Project. First-time moderately serious juvenile offenders were randomly assigned either to formal adjudication or to a diversionary "restorative policing" process called family group conferencing. Police-based family group conferencing employs trained police officers to facilitate a meeting attended by juvenile offenders, their victims, and their respective family and friends, to discuss the harm caused by the offender's actions and to develop an agreement to repair the harm. Victim and offender participation is voluntary. The effect of the program was measured through surveys of victims, offenders, offender's parents and police officers and by examining outcomes of conferences and formal adjudication. Results are related to six questions about restorative policing. Findings include: 42% participation rate, 100% of conferences (n=67) reaching an agreement, 94% of offenders (n=80) fully complying with agreements, and participant satisfaction and sense of fairness exceeding 96%. Results suggests that recidivism was more a function of offenders choice to participate than the effects of the conferencing, per se. Violent offenders participating in conferences had lower rearrest rates than violent offenders declining to participate, but this was not true for property offenders.

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