Traditional Justice System
In our traditional criminal justice system, a crime is a violation of law against the State. The offender must answer to the state to pay for their crimes. It is very offender focused, with an emphasis on making sure the offender gets punished appropriately. The system is administered by court officials and involved third parties.
Restorative Justice looks at crime as a violation of the relationships between people that cause harm. The response to this harm focuses on identifying the needs of the victims(s), the offender(s) and the community, and finding out how to repair the harm that was caused. The victim's voice is important in restorative justice- to share their story and let the offender know how to make it right. The offender must take responsibility for their actions and follow through to restore the relationships, not just to the victims, but also the community.
Restorative justice may not be the sole solution to every injustice, but it does address many weaknesses in our current approach. Victims of crimes report that they often feel powerless in the criminal justice system – they are not involved in the process in a meaningful way, beyond providing evidence and testimony for the court and many times feel re-victimized by the way their voice is unheard by the authorities. Offenders pay their restitution to the State, not to those directly harmed. And our prisons are filled with offenders who serve their sentence and “pay off their debt to society,” but never have to come face-to-face with the harm they caused and thereby escape accepting true accountability for their actions.
Is it effective? Yes, restorative justice practices have very high victim satisfaction rates and program completion rates -- meaning that offenders who start in a restorative justice process stay with the process through completion. And one of the by-products of quality restorative justice programs shows a reduction in re-offending rates by the offender. This correlation is especially strong in programs involving youth offenders, which offers great promise for our future! Restorative practices include victim-offender mediation, family-group conferencing, community peace circles, as well as many other models in practice around the world.