The KEDEM program for youth offenders is an innovative program offering an alternative to the legal process for minors. In the framework of the program, a KEDEM meeting (Family Group Conference) is held with the youth offender, his family, the victim of the offence and supporters of both sides. At the meeting, the offence is discussed and an agreement is formulated that includes compensation for the damage that has been caused, as well as steps by the youth and his family to prevent committing offences in the future. Between 2001 and 2003, the KEDEM program was conducted on an experimental basis by the Youth Probation Services, the Israel Police, the Ministry of Justice, and the Keshet and Ashalim associations.
The first three years of the program were accompanied by an evaluation to examine the program’s implementation and its impact on the participants, with the aim of informing decisions about broadening the program and establishing it as an alternative to trial for youth offenders. In this study, data were collected from different sources: the youth offenders, the probation officers, the KEDEM coordinators, the parents, the injured parties, supporters of the youth and injured parties, and representatives of the relevant government ministries. The following are the principal findings:
The youth themselves, their parents and the injured parties all expressed great satisfaction with the program. They felt that they had been treated with understanding and respect, that their views had been heard, and that they had had an impact on the decisions. They said they were satisfied with their decision to participate.
In the vast majority of KEDEM conferences, an agreement was reached among the participants. These agreements included steps to be taken by the youth to compensate the victims or the community, as well as interventions to support the youth offenders. Most offenders carried out the agreement in full, or in a partial but acceptable way.
The youth showed an improvement in regular school attendance, behavior at home and avoiding law-offending youngsters. Both the youth and their parents reported that there had been an improvement in their relationship: they were closer, there was more understanding between them, and there was also a greater acceptance of parental authority on the part of the youth offenders.
The findings pointed to a number of challenges, such as the need to increase the number of youth who are referred to the program; the need to guarantee support to the injured parties; and the need to make the work of the KEDEM coordinators more efficient.
The findings were presented and discussed by the program’s steering committee, and as a result, changes were introduced – such as placing greater emphasis on bringing in supporters for the injured parties. The findings were also presented to the directors-general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry for Internal Security, and the Ministry of Justice, who decided to fund the program and extend its activity.
This study was carried out at the initiative of and with the assistance of Ashalim, the Association for the Planning and Development of Services for Children at Risk and their Families.