Rather than focusing only on the outcome of a juvenile delinquency case, what if the focus was also on the perceived fairness of the process? The theory of procedural fairness or procedural justice relies on the premise that a person will regard the justice system more favorably if they believe that the process was fair, regardless of the outcome. Several factors are involved:
- Voice — Was the child’s side of the story heard?
- Respect — Was the child treated with dignity and respect?
- Neutrality — Was the decision-making process unbiased and trustworthy?
- Understanding — Did the child understand the process and how decisions were made?
- Helpfulness — Did the court participants show interest in the child’s personal situation, to the extent allowed?
See The Case for Procedural Justice: Fairness as a Crime Prevention Tool, U.S. Department of Justice COPS e-newsletter (September 2013).
The article notes the work of Prof. Tom Tyler from Yale Law School, who writes and lectures extensively on this topic. At a presentation at the National Juvenile Defender Center Leadership Summit on October 25, 2014, Prof. Tyler stated that procedural fairness can impact the child’s self-esteem and that juveniles can be especially influenced by the impression of fairness. Research has shown that a sense of unfairness has been linked to future criminal behavior.
The Center for Court Innovation has a wealth of information about procedural justice, including interview instruments and courtroom communication protocols.
Procedural Fairness for Judges and Courts includes court implementation tools, research, resources, and a blog.