Restorative Practices (RP) aims to proactively build relationships and community, while repairing harm through accountability. It’s a mindset for thinking about and reacting to wrongdoing bringing together participants in a Restorative conference to openly share feelings, describe how wrongdoing affected everyone, and find solutions for offenders to make things right. Offenders who qualify for referral and satisfy the agreements made in the Restorative conference can avoid a formal charge. This may sound like a soft approach to offending, but it is often the most difficult path to take, and potentially the most beneficial one for the community, the offender, and for those affected by a harmful act.

During the Restorative conference process, empathy often grows leading to improved behavior, an increased sense of belonging, and stronger community bonds. As more community building practices are effectively adopted, the need to repair harm often diminishes.

Restorative Practices can:

  • Reduce delinquency, crime and other antisocial behaviors
  • Improve human behavior
  • Strengthen community
  • Repair harm
  • Increase sense of belonging
  • Restore relationships
  • Provide effective leadership


Restorative Practices has been a method of conflict resolution in various ancient cultural communities around the world. Members of these communities gathered together to have conversations, which built and strengthened relationships. As these people gathered in circles, they solved problems, disciplined peers, and managed relationships within their communities.

The modern form of Restorative Practices has its roots in restorative justice.  This is a way of approaching criminal justice which focuses on fixing the harm done to people as opposed to only punishing the offenders. Modern mediation between victims and offenders began in 1974 by probation officer Mark Yantzi. Since then, the concept has spread to various fields for community building. This method of repairing relationships has found a home in criminal justice, education, counseling, social work, and faith communities.



One of the goals of Restorative Practices is to reduce incarceration by repairing communal relationships. Today, the US has the highest prison population rate in the world incarcerating 655 of every 100,000 people, which is down from 672 in 2015. (Walmsley, 2018). Many believe improvements can be attributed to programs like Restorative Practices.

The annual cost for one prisoner in Iowa is $32,860 dollars. Given there are 8,572 people incarcerated in Iowa, costs exceed $28 million annually (Iowa Department of Corrections, 2018). Advocates of Restorative Practices hope to reduce not only money spent but also the number of people in prison.

Dubuque can be the next community to experience the transformational benefits of Restorative Practices.  Individuals can be diverted from potentially destructive paths enabling our community to come together to repair relationships.



Restorative Practices is the result of numerous community members sharing this vision and working together with DCY staff to affect change.  We are eternally grateful for the efforts and support that the Dubuque community has given to the Restorative Practices Initiative.  

Dubuque YMCA/YWCA has developed Restorative Practices over the past two years in partnership with multiple individuals and departments including:

Dubuque County Juvenile Court System

Dubuque Police Department

Dubuque Community School District

City of Dubuque

Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Wartburg Seminary

John Deere Foundation

Northeast Iowa Community College




  • Healthy relationships are at the heart of thriving communities
  • Human connection is the most powerful influence on behavior
  • Anti-social behaviors are often the result of unmet personal needs
  • Accountability is achieved when someone learns from the impact of their actions
  • Strong communities are built when members are given voice, acceptance, and respect
  • Restorative practices value every member of the community



When police are called to a school, a police report is generated and sent to the Dubuque County Juvenile Court Services (JCS) for intake. JCS determines if the case is a good fit for Restorative Practices based on several factors including type of offense, severity of offense, and the student’s previous record. If it’s a good fit for Restorative Practices, then it’s referred to the Dubuque YMCA/YWCA RP Coordinator who initiates the restorative conference process.



For more information, please contact Deb Gustafson Coordinator at 563-556-3371 or email dgustafson@dubuquey.org