How is the Outcome of Restorative Justice Different from the Traditional Court System?

Type of process: Community Group Conference

Conference Participants:

  • Offender –Maddie (14)
  • Offender Support- Maddie’s mother
  • 2 Facilitators
  • 2 Community Members
  • 2 Animal Control Police Officers

Criminal Charges Pending: Animal Abuse

Referring agent: Police Department

Factual Synopsis: Two fourteen-year-old girls took a pet chinchilla to the park and filmed themselves making it “swim” in the creek. Maddie’s case was handled through restorative justice and Alison’s case was handled through the traditional court system.


In studying the restorative justice process and how it compares to the traditional court system, it is common to attempt to find similar cases (with the same pending charge and similar age, demographic and criminal history of the offender) that went through each system in order to draw comparisons. The chance to look at a direct comparison, how a single case is handled through RJ and the courts respectively, is a rare occurrence. In 2014, our organization had the opportunity to make that direct comparison.

During the summer, Maddie and Alison, two 14-year-old girls, brought Maddie’s chinchilla Chester to the park near Maddie’s house. The two girls decided to take Chester down to the creek in the park to see if he could swim. They filmed a video of themselves dropping Chester in the water and watching as he struggled to keep his head above the surface. They made Chester “swim” several times and when they finally removed him from the water, his breathing was deep and frantic. Chester survived, but in the video, he appears to be near death. When the girls got home, they posted the video of Chester in the creek on YouTube. The backlash online, especially from animal rights groups, was extreme. Maddie received death threats through her YouTube and Facebook accounts and terrible accusations. Eventually, the YouTube video was brought to the attention of local Animal Control officers who went through the long process of finding Maddie and Alison through their proximity to the park filmed in the video. The officers spoke with both families and decided to refer the case to restorative justice. During intakes, Alison’s parents were insistent that she had done nothing wrong and ultimately refused to go through restorative justice. Alison was referred back to the police department for her case to be handled through court and the process moved forward with only Maddie participating.

Maddie’s restorative justice conference was an emotional process. After sharing the story of taking Chester to the park and dropping him in the water, Maddie cried as she described her feeling of having let Chester down as the person who is supposed to be his protector. Her contract included making a plan for proper care of Chester, raising money to donate to a chinchilla rescue, making a video on the downfalls of social media, and writing a short children’s book with information on proper chinchilla care to be reviewed by a vet. Three months later, Maddie completed her contract. The final stanza of her children’s book read:

“Now you know how to care for your little fluffy ball.

If you have any questions, just give your vet a call.

Please love your chinny and they will love you.

These sweet gentle animals need a mommy or daddy and that can be you!”

Maddie’s case is now closed. She has no criminal conviction on her record. Furthermore, she had the beneficial experience of taking responsibility for her actions and repairing the harms, and is taking much better care of Chester.

After being referred back to the Police Department, Alison was issued a summons for a court date. She did not appear in court. There is now a warrant out for her arrest. Unfortunately, this incident will impact Alison’s permanent record and may even result in time spent in juvenile detention.

Maddie and Alison’s case demonstrates the advantages of restorative justice in allowing people to learn from their mistakes and move forward in a productive way. It also demonstrates the pitfalls of the court system and how one incident can easily spiral into greater legal trouble that can impact the rest of a young person’s life.

3 responses to “How is the Outcome of Restorative Justice Different from the Traditional Court System?”

  1. Cade Woolstenhulme Avatar
    Cade Woolstenhulme

    Lindsey, I enjoyed reading your blog. Quite the success for the RJ program and for Maggie. Your blog was very informative, and a great case comparison. Thank you.


  2. Great stuff Lindsey! It’s going to be so interesting to read these as you go. Love you! Dad


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