What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law – it also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. So a just response must address those harms as well as the wrongdoing. If the parties are willing, the best way to do this is to help them meet to discuss those harms and how to about bring resolution. Sometimes those meetings lead to transformational changes in their lives.  So, Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.

Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:

  • identifying and taking steps to repair harm
  • involving all stakeholders
  • transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.

Some of the programs and outcomes typically identified with restorative justice include:

  • Victim offender mediation
  • Conferencing
  • Circles
  • Victim assistance
  • Ex-offender assistance
  • Restitution
  • Community service

Three principles form the foundation for restorative justice:

  • Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured.
  • Those most directly involved and affected by crime should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response if they wish.
  • Government’s role is to preserve a just public order, and the community’s is to build and maintain a just peace.

Restorative programs are characterized by four key values:

  • Encounter:  Create opportunities for victims, offenders and community members who want to do so to meet to discuss the crime and its aftermath
  • Amends:  Expect offenders to take steps to repair the harm they have caused
  • Reintegration:  Seek to restore victims and offenders  to whole, contributing members of society
  • Inclusion:  Provide opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific crime to participate in its resolution.  (From Centre for Justice & Reconciliation)

Benefits of participation in a Restorative Justice process include:

  • It substantially reduces repeat offending for some offenders, although not all,
  • It reduces repeat offending more than prison for adults and at least as well as prison for youths,
  • When used as a diversion it helps reduce the costs of criminal justice,
  • It provides both victims and offenders with more satisfaction that justice had been done than did traditional criminal justice,
  • It reduces crime victims’ post-traumatic stress symptoms and the related costs, and
  • It reduces crime victims’ desire for violent revenge against their offenders.

(Sherman, LW and Strang, H (2007) Restorative Justice: The Evidence. London: The Smith Institute)

Additionally,  Restorative Justice is recognized as a model in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Model Programs Guide. A 2007 University of Wisconsin study found that Barron County’s restorative justice program [in northwestern Wisconsin] led to significant declines in youth violence, arrests, crime, and recidivism. Five years after the program began, violent juvenile offenses decreased almost 49 percent. Overall juvenile arrest rates decreased almost 45 percent. Significantly, the study further found that collaboration of law enforcement officials with the community and schools was a decisive factor in reducing youth violence. (see PeaceBuilder Magazine of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding of Eastern Mennonite University, October 15th, 2009, and Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY))

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