WHAT IS FAMILY GROUP CONFERENCING?
A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a facilitated group dialogue and decision-making process in which a young person who has done harm is encouraged and supported to be directly accountable to the person who was harmed. The focus is on doing right, not on punishment. Typically, participants in a FGC include a young person accused of a crime, his/her family, the persons who were harmed and their supporters, and a trained facilitator. Depending on the severity of the crime, a member of law enforcement might also be present. Ideally, an FGC results in a consensus based plan for repairing the harm to the extent possible. When the young person completes the plan, filed charges are dropped. The participants also try to understand why the offending happened and tailor the plan to help prevent future wrongdoing.
FGC can also be used in lieu of traditional school discipline processes which would otherwise result in suspensions or expulsions for more serious negative behavior on school campuses. Ideally, a single restorative system of youth accountability which addresses both school needs and juvenile charges would result when youth commit crimes on school campuses.
HISTORY OF FGC
Family Group Conferencing is the national model for addressing youthful wrongdoing in New Zealand. The Maori – New Zealand’s indigenous people – spoke out against the disproportionate incarceration of their youth and advocated for FGC as a more effective model for dealing with youth crime. In 1989, the New Zealand government passed the Chidren, Young Persons, and Their Families Act which adopted a national model for using FGC in all youth crimes other than murder and manslaughter. Since 1989, youth incarceration has been rendered virtually obsolete, juvenile detention facilities have been closed, recidivism rates have plummeted, and victim satisfaction rates are high.
Based on the New Zealand success, and on the successes of several smaller FGC programs in this country, we promote FGC as an ideal model for addressing juvenile crime in the United States. Inspired by the Maori effort against structural racism, we are particularly dedicated to FGC as a means of reducing Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) with juvenile justice systems.
FGC IN ALAMEDA COUNTY
In 2008, Community Works’ Restorative Justice Advisor began educating Oakland area justice officials about the safety, efficacy, and superiority of FGC as a model for addressing juvenile wrongdoing. As a result, two Alameda County police deparments (Hayward and Oakland) and the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s office began diverting felonies and high-level misdemeanors to the FGC pilot. Two partner agencies have also dedicated staff members and volunteers to facilitating FGCs. The pilot’s success is reflected by its current 15% recidivism rate — in contrast with the County’s juvenile recidivism rate for similar crimes (75%) and the State’s (91%).
ARE FGCs VOLUNTARY?
Participation in FGC, like all truly restorative processes, is completely voluntary. However, most people who have caused harm or were affected by a crime chose to attend an FGC so that they can be heard and to have a say in the outcome.
Research shows that FGC can prevent reoffending, increase victim satisfaction, and significantly reduce the massive costs associated with our traditional justice systems (92% savings per case diverted to FGC). FGC offers victims a more active voice in addressing harms that were done to them than the traditional criminal justice system. It encourages creative, positive, and workable solutions, and reduces reoffending and addresses underlying causes that lead to crime. FGC often improves family relationships and has the potential to build community engagement in some of our most difficult community problems.
If your organization is interested in FGC facilitator training, contact us.