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Substance Abuse Treatment and Restorative Justice Practice

NCJ Number
Perspectives Volume: 26 Issue: 3 Dated: Summer 2002 Pages: 20-24
Robert Schwebel Ph.D.; Jay Zaslaw M.Ed.
Date Published
5 pages
This article discusses an approach to substance abuse treatment and a model program, the Seven challenges, which uses a restorative justice approach to juvenile justice.
The mission of restorative justice is to repair the harm, rather than to treat or punish the offender. It offers a balanced approach and focuses not on the offender alone, but on harm to the community and reparation of that harm. Restorative justice proponents have viewed traditional models of drug treatment as requiring delinquent youth to be passive recipients of services, rather than active participants in the process of restorative justice. Much of what is done in adolescent drug treatment is contrary to the fundamental principles of restorative justice. Adults are dictating behavior to young people, trying to gain compliant behavior, and not teaching skills or engaging young people in meaningful dialogue. Treatment plans usually start with immediate abstinence as one of the initial goals. Most young people that enter drug treatment don’t think they have a problem and do not look for help with their drug problems. Young people are taught to be drug-free before they have actually made the decision to be drug-free. The pressure to quit defies what is known about adolescent development; they are defining their own identity. It fails to take into account the stages of change, and relies heavily on the belief that the best way to influence youth is by controlling their behavior. The Seven Challenges Program is a new type of drug treatment that is compatible with restorative justice. It facilitates cognitive change; helps youth look at their own behavior, including the harm they have caused to themselves and others; helps youth “get it;” and provides an opportunity for giving back to the community. Challenges are taught through cognitive behavioral activities such as role-playing, active discussion, and exercises that relate to young people’s own lives. Young people identify the underlying social, emotional, and psychological motivation for their drug use. Ancillary treatment includes work on social skill development, cognitive processing, anger management, problem-solving techniques, and pre-vocational and vocational training. 11 references