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Introduction to Restorative Justice

RJ3d coverRestorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law. It also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. For justice to be done that harm must be addressed. That is the idea of repair.

One way to do this is to invite the people harmed to meet with those who harmed them to discuss the crime’s impact on their lives. These meeting are always voluntary and care is taken to make both feel safe. Often what happens at the meetings begins to repair the harm and they end with an agreement about any further actions needed. This is the idea of encounter.

Sometimes what takes place has a transforming effect. The result is not merely repair, but something well beyond that: new insights, deeper understanding, growing wisdom and heartfelt commitments. They see each other in very different ways than before. This is the idea of transformation.

So a simple definition of restorative justice is this: Restorative justice is a way of seeing crime as more than breaking the law – it causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. So a just response must address that harm. An excellent way to do this, if they are willing, is for the parties themselves to meet to discuss the harm and how to bring resolution. (Other measures are possible if they are unable or unwilling to meet.) Sometimes those meetings lead to important changes in their lives.

A more formal definition is this: Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet, although other approaches are available when that is impossible. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.

Restorative Processes

Three processes have become closely identified with restorative justice: victim offender mediation, family or community conferencing, and sentencing or peacemaking circles. Each provides opportunities for the affected parties to meet, discuss what happened, the impact it has had, and what should happen in the future. A facilitator prepares the parties and is present to help them carry on their conversation in a productive, respectful way. However, the parties find their own solutions.

Restorative Outcomes

Some outcomes are frequently decided on in the agreements that conclude restorative processes. These same outcomes could be imposed by a judge on the offender, but the restorative effect will be significantly diminished. This is because when offenders agree to do something, they are taking active responsibility for their actions and the consequences. When they are ordered to do it, this is at best passive responsibility, assumed by offenders. because they are ordered to do so.

Typical restorative outcomes include apology, competency development (taking steps that make it less likely that the offender will do this again), restitution and generosity (doing more than is strictly required).

For further introductory information, go to Introduction (particularly the tutorial) at

Marketing and Media. (National Institute of Justice, USA). 2007.
This section describes innovative ways to market the concept of restorative justice to criminal justice system practitioners as well as to the media. It provides information highlighting how each component of the criminal justice system benefits by embracing restorative justice. (Excerpt) Provides information for specifically working with media outlets as well as talking points for various audiences such as prosecutors, law enforcement, and judges.
Grounding Justice in Reality: Theological Reflections on Overcoming Violence in the Criminal Justice System. (Prison Fellowship New Zealand) 2002.
Christians who take seriously Jesus’ call to non-violence and who believe in the power of the gospel to overcome violence and create genuine shalom must learn to apply these convictions to criminal justice policy and practice as much as to international militarism and human rights abuses. For if we are in any measure to overcome violence, we must employ the principles of peacemaking justice in all areas of social life, including the criminal justice system. With respect to our handling of crime, this means challenging the violent logic of retributive justice, which undergirds much of our present system, and embracing the principles and priorities of “restorative justice”. (Excerpt) Author: Christopher Marshall.
A Christian Response to Crime: Do we need to develop a new Spirituality? (2009)
In this article, Douw Grobler, executive director of PF South Africa, discusses the need to develop a new spirituality that focuses on healing, reconciliation, and transformation.
Handbook on Restorative justice programmes (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) 2006 [EN] [FR]
One in a series of handbooks created by the United Nations Offices on Drugs and Crime, the Handbook on Restorative Justice Programmes seeks to provide an overview of concepts of restorative justice and focuses on a range of programmes that provide a more participatory approach to criminal justice
Restorative Outcomes
“Crime causes harm; justice should repair the harm. ” This tagline for a restorative justice programme calls attention to the importance of seeing that victims’ needs are addressed. These harms can be physical, financial, psychological, relational and social. Some are relatively straightforward to calculate, but others are more speculative. What can compensate for sleepless nights, for example.
Working with Victims and Offenders: Process Issues
It can seem intimidating to facilitate restorative encounters between victims and offenders. However, there are some relatively simple principles that will increase the likelihood that the experience will be positive for all involved. This issue of Focus on Justice will explore principles related to the restorative process, and the next issue will address issues related to the participants themselves.
Working with Victims and Offenders: Participant Issues
Working with participants—victim, offender, and supporters—in a restorative process can be difficult. Each person brings his/her own experience and emotions to the process. These can range from anger and pain to shame and guilt. It is important to be sensitive to and respectful of the needs of these individuals. This issue of Focus on Justice provides some principles for working with participants in a restorative process.
Restorative Circles
Restorative justice processes are tools used to help those affected by a crime – victims, offenders and community members – talk openly about the crime, its impact on their lives, and what should be done to make things right. Three different processes have been identified as restorative: Victim Offender Mediation (VOM), Conferencing, and Circles. This article will discuss the elements of the circle process.
Restorative Conferencing
Three programmes are often linked with restorative justice: victim offender mediation, conferencing and circles. These provide places for victims, offenders, their supporters, community members and others to meet for restorative dialogue. While there are many similarities between the three, it can be useful to consider ways in which they offer different, proven approaches to the parties. In reality, restorative programmes usually offer flexible approaches so that they can adjust to the needs of the particular parties. This month Focus on Justice considers the process of restorative conferencing. It is important to remember, however, that any restorative programme is only useful if it helps the parties experience restorative dialogue.
Victim Offender Mediation
Victim Offender Mediation (VOM) was the first of the three programmes to be created. VOM brings victims and offenders together with a trained facilitator to discuss the crime and develop an agreement for how to make things right. This process focuses on creating a safe, comfortable environment in which restorative dialogue can take place. At the outset, victims are invited to tell the story about the crime from their perspective, to express how it has impacted their lives, and to ask the offenders any questions they may have. Offenders are then given the opportunity to talk about what they did, to explain why they did it, and to answer any questions that the victim has asked.
Creating Space for Restorative Dialogue
It is sometimes said that restorative justice is a process, not a programme. The value of victim offender mediation, for example, is not that victims and offenders went through the programme (like cars through a tunnel). Instead, its power has to do with what they experienced while they met with each other. The essence of restorative justice processes is the remarkable communication that can take place during those processes.
Why Make Amends?
Crime causes harm to people and relationships. Victims suffer from the direct injuries or losses of the crime, a loss of a sense of security, and stigmatisation or alienation from their community. Offenders experience harm in the aftermath of their behaviour such as feelings of shame, lost relationships with family and friends, and alienation from society. For justice to be done, steps must be taken to repair this harm to allow healing for both the victim and the offender. Making amends is one step toward addressing the harm caused by past behaviour.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is a response to crime that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders, and communities caused or revealed by the criminal behaviour. It involves a way of thinking about crime and its aftermath that is different from traditional criminal justice in three important ways.
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