Face-to-face restorative justice conferencing has been shown to, in the wake of crime, improve outcomes for victims and reduce reoffending. However, little is known about the role RJ can play as a tool in the prisoner reentry process. This study will test the capacity of restorative justice—specifically, family group conferencing (FGC)—to enhance public safety and equip returning citizens with the skills and insight to repair relationships and reintegrate successfully into their communities and families. We will conduct a randomized controlled trial of FGC for individuals still under supervision by the Michigan Department of Corrections but currently residing in Self-Help Addiction Rehabilitation (SHAR), a therapeutic community. One unique aspect of this study is understanding how restorative justice works for those suffering from addiction, a population who routinely faces heightened challenges to reentry. The proposed study will test the mechanisms through which FGC matters. The Department of Corrections and SHAR are important partners on this evaluation. If the intervention proves effective, the study would support an expanded role for restorative justice in reentry, and will inform family reunification practices.
Over the course of three years, we will recruit 450 residents from SHAR for the study including both males and females—most of whom will have recently transitioned from state and local custody, and many of whom meet the criteria as habitual offenders. The impact evaluation will test whether FGC participants report: higher levels of empathy to others, remorse for the harms they caused and generativity to give back; lower levels of criminal identity; improved relationships with family; and other indicators of successful reentry such as recovery from addiction and desistance from crime. The process evaluation examines to what extent FGC is implemented with fidelity, how FGC is integrated into the treatment program at SHAR, and how challenges to implementation are resolved. Finally, we will assess the comparative costs and benefits for each impact.
Data collection includes baseline and follow-up surveys (prior to release) for all participants and interviews with participants and family members at 6 months after release. We will collect data on arrests and incarcerations covering the period of the first 12 months after release. Documentation of the implementation of the FGC practices and interviews with key stakeholders will provide data for the process evaluation. The randomized controlled trial design will build on prior studies by including two control conditions, those who refuse FGC and those who volunteer but are assigned to not receive a conference.