Twelve experiments in restorative justice: the Jerry Lee program of randomized trials of restorative justice conferences

Lawrence W. Sherman, Heather Strang, Geoffrey Barnes, Daniel Woods, Sarah Bennett, Nova Inkpen, Dorothy Newbury-Birch, Meredith Rossner, Caroline Angel, Malcolm Mearns, Molly Slothower

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    Objectives: We conducted and measured outcomes from the Jerry Lee Program of 12 randomized trials over two decades in Australia and the United Kingdom (UK), testing an identical method of restorative justice taught by the same trainers to hundreds of police officers and others who delivered it to 2231 offenders and 1179 victims in 1995–2004. The article provides a review of the scientific progress and policy effects of the program, as described in 75 publications and papers arising from it, including previously unpublished results of our ongoing analyses.

    Methods: After random assignment in four Australian tests diverting criminal or juvenile cases from prosecution to restorative justice conferences (RJCs), and eight UK tests of supplementing criminal or juvenile proceedings with RJCs, we followed intention-to-treat group differences between offenders for up to 18 years, and for victims up to 10 years.

    Results: We distil and modify prior research reports into 18 updated evidence-based conclusions about the effects of RJCs on both victims and offenders. Initial reductions in repeat offending among offenders assigned to RJCs (compared to controls) were found in 10 of our 12 tests. Nine of the ten successes were for crimes with personal victims who participated in the RJCs, with clear benefits in both short- and long-term measures, including less prevalence of post-traumatic stress symptoms. Moderator effects across and within experiments showed that RJCs work best for the most frequent and serious offenders for repeat offending outcomes, with other clear moderator effects for poly-drug use and offense seriousness.

    Conclusions: RJ conferences organized and led (most often) by specially-trained police produced substantial short-term, and some long-term, benefits for both crime victims and their offenders, across a range of offense types and stages of the criminal justice processes on two continents, but with important moderator effects. These conclusions are made possible by testing a new kind of justice on a programmatic basis that would allow prospective meta-analysis, rather than doing one experiment at a time. This finding provides evidence that funding agencies could get far more evidence for the same cost from programs of identical, but multiple, RCTs of the identical innovative methods, rather than funding one RCT at a time.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)501-540
    JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2015


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