8.9. Restorative Justice

David Carter and Kate McLean

Restorative justice (or RJ) remains a marginal philosophy within most criminal justice systems to the present day; instead, RJ is more often linked with community-based non-profit organizations, which sometimes intersect with community corrections. For this reason, RJ is discussed here. (You may also recall a brief discussion of RJ in Section 6, on Sentencing.) Restorative justice is a community-based and trauma-informed practice used to build relationships, strengthen communities, encourage accountability, repair harm, and restore relationships when wrongdoing occurs. As an intervention following wrongdoing, restorative justice works for the people who have caused harm, and the victim(s), and community members impacted. Working with a restorative justice facilitator, participants identify the harms endured, outstanding victim and community needs, and the offenders’ obligations. They then make a plan to repair the harm and put things as right as possible. This process, restorative justice conferencing, can also be called victim-offender dialogues. It is within this process that multiple benefits may occur. First, the victim can be heard within the scope of both the community and within the scope of the offense discussed. This provides the victim(s) an opportunity to express the impact on them, but also to understand what was happening from the perspective of the transgressor. At the same time, it allows the person committing the action to potentially take responsibility for the acts committed, directly to the victim(s) and to the community as a whole. This restorative process provides a level of healing that is often unique to the RJ. Pictured, the different processes that can occur during the different types of dialogues within RJC.

Restorative Justice Success

For over a quarter century, restorative justice has been demonstrated to show positive outcomes in terms of offender accountability, and satisfaction for both offenders and victims. This is true for adult offenders, as well as juvenile offenders (who are more commonly targeted by RJ interventions). Recently, some researchers have wondered whether  cognitive changes may occur for individuals completing a restorative justice program. At the same time, many different programs are lumped together under the aegis of “restorative justice,” including programs that are mostly victim-, or mostly offender-oriented. For a better sense of how diverse a field RJ is, take a look at programs offered by the Pennsylvania’s Office of Victim Advocate, many of which are labelled as “restorative justice.”


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Introduction to the U.S. Criminal Justice System Copyright © 2019 by David Carter and Kate McLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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