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Restorative Justice - What Is Restorative Justice?

community victim offenders crime

Restorative justice provides an entirely different way of thinking about crime and victimization. Under previous criminal justice paradigms the state was viewed as the primary victim of criminal acts, and victims and offenders played passive roles. Restorative justice recognizes crime as first and foremost being directed against individual people. It assumes that those most affected by crime should have the opportunity to become actively involved in resolving the conflict. The emphasis is on restoration of losses, allowing offenders to take direct responsibility for their actions, and assisting victims in moving beyond their sense of vulnerability and achieving some closure. These goals stand in sharp contrast to those of traditional paradigms, which focused on past criminal behavior through everincreasing levels of punishment (Bazemore and Walgrave; Umbreit, 1994; Wright). Restorative justice attempts to draw upon the strengths of both offenders and victims, rather than focusing upon their deficits. While denouncing criminal behavior, restorative justice emphasizes the need to treat offenders with respect and to reintegrate them into the larger community in ways that can lead to lawful behavior. It represents a truly different paradigm based upon the following values.

  1. Restorative justice is far more concerned about restoration of the victim and victimized community than with ever more costly punishment of the offender.
  2. Restorative justice elevates the importance of the victim in the criminal justice process, through increased involvement, input, and services.
  3. Restorative justice requires that offenders be held directly accountable to the person and/or community that they victimized.
  4. Restorative justice encourages the entire community to be involved in holding the offender accountable and promoting a healing response to the needs of victims and offenders.
  5. Restorative justice places greater emphasis on the offender accepting responsibility for his or her behavior, and making amends whenever possible, than on the severity of punishment.
  6. Restorative justice recognizes a community responsibility for social conditions that contribute to offender behavior.

The theory of restorative justice provides a blueprint for moving into the twenty-first century by drawing upon much of the wisdom of the past. In eleventh-century England, following the Norman invasion of Britain, a major paradigm shift occurred in which there was a turning away from the well-established understanding of crime as a victim-offender conflict within the context of community. William the Conqueror's son, Henry I, issued a decree securing royal jurisdiction over certain offenses against the king's peace (robbery, arson, murder, theft, and other violent crimes). Prior to this decree crime had always been viewed as conflict between individuals, and the emphasis was on repairing the damage by making amends to the victim.

Restorative justice also draws upon the rich heritage of many recent justice reform movements, including community corrections, victim advocacy, and community policing. The principles of restorative justice are particularly congruent with those of many indigenous traditions, including Native American, Hawaiian, Canadian First Nation people, and the Maori of New Zealand. These principles are also consistent with values emphasized by nearly all of the world religions.

Restorative justice can be expressed through a wide range of policies and practices directed toward offenders and crime victims, including: victim support and advocacy, restitution, community service, victim impact panels, victim-offender mediation, circle sentencing, family group conferencing, community boards that meet with offenders to determine appropriate sanctions, victim empathy classes for offenders, and community policing.

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