Restorative Justice in Communities

Practice in Communities

Restorative Justice (RJ) is a philosophy, set of practices and mindset that addresses injustice (most often a law or rule broken) by thinking about the harms, needs and obligations of all of those involved. Healing is accomplished most often when all those affected are involved and meet to discuss and decide how best to repair the harm by addressing those needs and obligations.

Howard Zehr, known widely as the “grandfather of restorative justice,” has said, “Crime is a wound. Justice should be healing.” A punitive justice system that ignores the specific needs of victims does not create safer communities, but instead not only alienates those they punish, but also their communities and all those affected by the crime. The punitive justice system asks three questions:

  • What law was broken?
  • Who did it?
  • How are we going to punish them?

Restorative justice (RJ), on the other hand, is a cooperative process of responding to crime that involves all the primary stakeholders in determining how best to repair the harm done by the offense. This process builds authentic relationships based on understanding and common interests, which in turn creates cohesive and safe communities. A restorative justice process asks three questions:

  • Who was harmed?
  • How will the harm be repaired?
  • Who is responsible for repairing the harm?

Because crime harms people and relationships, justice requires the healing of the harm as much as possible.

The primary stakeholders in a given offense are 1) the person who caused the harm (typically referred to as “the offender”), 2) the person who was harmed (referred to as “the victim”) and 3) the community affected by the offense.

There are Five Essential Characteristics of successful restorative practices:

  • RELATIONSHIPS: Developing caring connections and finding common ground
  • RESPECT: Listening to others’ opinions and valuing them
  • RESPONSIBILITY: Being accountable for actions taken
  • RESTORATION: Repairing harm that has been caused
  • REINTEGRATION: Ensuring all remain included and involved

Four Important Elements are found in restorative practices:

  • Encounter: Creates an opportunity for all to meet to discuss what happened and the harm caused.
  • Amends: Expects those who have harmed to take steps to repair the harm done to others.
  • Reintegration: Seeks to restore everyone to whole, contributing members of society.
  • Inclusion: Provides opportunities for all to collaborate in creating a resolution.

Practice in Communities

In the community, restorative justice practices can be diversions from typical justice system responses (i.e. court, probation, etc.), providing an opportunity for the stakeholders to focus on the harm caused and the needs and obligations of those involved.

Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) is found within the Juvenile Justice System, and takes Restorative Justice one step further suggesting that there are three components to the Balanced Approach: Accountability, Competency Development and Community Safety. Accountability suggests that the youthful offender has an obligation to the person harmed to make amends; competency development increases the expectation that the youthful offender leaves the juvenile justice system more capable than when entering it; and community safety reflects the various partnerships in the community that support the youth while providing a continuum of sanctions to reduce recidivism.

BARJ practices in communities often create opportunities for transformation where youth realize their responsibility and successfully complete outcomes requested. These can include sincere apologies, restitution and community service all of which lead to higher victim and community satisfaction and lower recidivism rates.

RJ practices in communities: