A statewide victim youth conferencing (VYC) program in Nebraska has proven to be successful at promoting participant satisfaction, attaining reparations agreements and ensuring youth fulfillment of those agreements. The program was launched in March 2015 as a pilot in three jurisdictions covering four counties and was expanded statewide in January 2018. Services are provided by Nebraska Office of Dispute Resolution-approved mediation centers. Referrals to the program came at three stages: pre-court referrals from the County Attorneys’ offices after a school-based incident, court diversion referrals from the County Attorney and Courts pre-adjudication, and referrals from the court post-adjudication.
The evaluation of the VYC program looked at the program’s goals to determine whether they were being met, as well as other aspects of the program, including who was served by the program and how the process was working in each of the centers providing the services. In terms of outcomes, the program had the following goals: 95% of conferences will end with a reparations agreement, 95% of agreements will be fulfilled and 97% of participants will report being satisfied with the process. The program exceeded the first goal and came within a percentage point or two of attaining the other two goals. All conferences held ended with a reparations agreement. Youth completed 94.2% of those agreements and partially completed 5.8% of them. Ninety-five percent of participants were satisfied with the process.
In addition to being satisfied with the process, 89% of participating youth and 70% of participating victims believed that the VYC made the justice system more responsive to their needs. Further, 94% of victims agreed that it was helpful to talk directly with the person who was responsible for the harm, and 77% of victims said that meeting that person reduced any fear that he/she would commit another crime against them. The youth held similar opinions: 88% said it was helpful to talk directly with the victim and 94% said that after the meeting they had a better understanding of the full impact of the crime on others.
The program also had longer-term goals of reducing recidivism, “closing the gap in disproportionate minority contact with courts,” increasing safety in communities and sustaining capacity for VYC statewide. The program’s effect on recidivism proved hard to assess. The evaluator found that the 38 youth who participated in the initial pilot, 16% recidivated in the succeeding 12 months, compared to 24% of the 17 youth who did not. However, the data was insufficient and unreliable, so she did not determine that participation in the program caused the reduction in recidivism. The hope is that later evaluations can address this, as well as the other goals mentioned above.