Restorative justice

Restorative justice is a problem-solving approach to crime which involves:

  • the offender
  • the victim
  • the community
Restorative justice originated in the USA and it is based on the traditional justice found in Native American communities. The focus is not on law and punishments. Instead, focus is on the disruption an anti-social action can cause to relationships, and how these broken relationships can be healed.

Restorative Justice works to resolve conflict and to repair harm by:

  • Encouraging those who have caused harm to consider the damage they have done.
  • Giving them the opportunity to make reparation (ie to put things right).
  • Offering those who have suffered harm or loss the opportunity to have this acknowledged and to have amends made.

The idea is that the needs of victims, the offenders and the community are not independent - all three must work together.

After a crime has been committed, many people cannot move on with their lives without becoming involved in restoration - that is, fixing things or restoring them to their natural state.

The Restorative Justice Consortium (RJC) was formed in 1997 and it aims to promote the use of restorative justice within the criminal justice system, the workplace and schools.

How restorative justice works

The victim and the offender – Meetings are organised to give offenders the chance to make voluntary compensation to their victims. This might mean paying money, but that is only part of the process. It will also involve an apology and explanation of how the crime came about. This can help victims to get over the crime. It can also help offenders face up to the reality of what they have done. A practical gesture will be made, such as financial payments, work for the victim (for example repairing damage done when breaking and entering a victim’s home) or an agreement to attend a counselling course. The victim's emotional as well as material needs are dealt with. Some victims may find it helpful to offer forgiveness if the offender shows remorse. Unresolved difficulties can be settled, such as how they should behave towards each other in future, particularly if they knew each other before the crime. A skilled, specially trained mediator sets the ground rules for a positive meeting.

The victim and the community – Community support for victims usually happens through friends and relatives. For people who do not have this support, the voluntary organisation Victim Support exists to fill this gap by offering practical help and support to victims from trained volunteers. Victim Support can help to overcome feelings of distrust and help the victim get over what has happened to them. Other community groups, such as Women’s Aid or Childline, also help victims of crime.

The offender and the community – There are many projects which try to help offenders. They may need help in finding a job, accommodation, training or counselling for a problem (such as an addiction). The emphasis is on encouraging offenders to get back into society. Some schools have special schemes aimed at early offenders. There are programmes for bullying, truancy, misbehaviour and school exclusions. Pupils are trained in dispute resolution so they can provide counselling and mediation services for fellow pupils.