Family Conferencing as a Cornerstone of Civil Rights

With millions marching for justice in honor of George Floyd, is it a realistic demand that civil rights be honored in police and justice system encounters, especially in the system’s contact with young people?  We believe that it is absolutely realistic!

Consider that black youth are five times as likely to be arrested or imprisoned compared to white youth.  They are 18 times more likely to be tried as an adult. Nationally, the rate for incarceration of black youth for is 433 per 100,000 compared to 86 for white youth.  Once youth get pulled into the system, the collateral consequences crush their educational opportunities, earnings potential, and voting rights. (See The Sentencing Project.

Overwhelming evidence shows that Family Conferencing and Positive Ticketing can measurably advance the civil rights and safety of our children by keeping them out of the justice system altogether.  This outcome is absolutely realistic.

Our staff have witnessed these outcomes in a major city:

  • The families of youthful offenders dealt with their legal offences within the family and kept them out of the system altogether.
  • The pipeline to mass incarceration stopped. When the first step into the system was blocked, the pipeline broke.
  • Juvenile crime in the city plummeted.
  • The city saved so much money from not incarcerating teens that they vastly increased their funding of youth centers and programs.
  • Police became much more positive toward teens, and teens toward police.

How did this happen?  Parents and family members were restored to their role as the best support and justice system for their own teens.

Here’s some technical notes:

  • Family Conferencing (also called Family Group Conferencing) consists of a volunteer facilitating a meeting with the youthful offender, the victim of the offense, and family members — parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
  • The result is reconciliation and restoration between the young person and victim and a plan for the young person. For example, a teen who gets into trouble in free time after school gets scheduled into the supervision of family members every day, and free time is no longer a problem.
  • Positive Ticketing requires police officers to proactively talk to all kids and teens in a positive manner, not just to kids suspected of wrongdoing. The “tickets” are a card with a positive message and a coupon for a free ice cream or recreational spot.  However, the cards are really just a prop for the adults—the kids really just want a positive conversation.  The proven results are that suspicions and negative interactions are reduced greatly. Arrests drop and the first step into the system is prevented.

The rate of reoffending among teens and kids in Family Conferencing is less than 10% versus 90% for the courts-based justice system.  I’m sure you can easily empathize with a teen facing a family meeting, especially with a grandparent.  That’s a session he or she never want to repeat.  Does this remind you of the difference between discipline and punishment in Workshop 5 of Parenting Partners?   The justice system relies on punishment; the family system goes with discipline.  Discipline empowers young people to learn from mistakes and succeed.

Patty & I taught this family-based justice model in a university school of education for years.  All the educators who learned about it loved it.  Our university offered a major and master’s degree in family conferencing, based on a model from the Maori people in New Zealand. It’s an ancient and proven technology, and it’s not that hard to implement.  It’s a method with a far longer history than the school-to-prison mass incarceration system. 

If you’d like to know more, please let us know and we’ll facilitate a one hour interactive webinar to share what all of us know about this step toward restoring justice and civil rights in our communities.

What do you think?


David Bunker, Executive Director

Family Leadership Inc

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