What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative Justice (RJ) is a philosophy of justice, and a collection of applied practices, many with roots in indigenous communities, in which justice is pursued not with punishment but by addressing and repairing harm and strengthening relationships.. 

Restorative Justice is a values-based and a needs-based philosophy. Because of this, it is not easy to box RJ into a single definition.  Here are some examples of definitions from a few of our colleagues and RJ leaders:

Restorative justice is a philosophy and way of life—more than a technique or process. It is seen as a completely different paradigm for being in relationship, whether the relationship is with those close to us or those we don’t know, with individuals, groups, peoples, or nations, and with humans or others of the natural world.
–Denise Branton

RJ represents a paradigm change from thinking about justice as a mechanism for social control to thinking about justice as a mechanism for social engagement.

–Dr. Brenda Morrison, Director of the Centre for Restorative Justice and an Associate Professor in the School of Criminology at Simon Frasier University.

At its core, restorative justice is a philosophy that views wrongdoing as a violation or breakdown of relationships and community rather than as a violation of rules or law. 

–Mark Umbreit, Professor and Founding Director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota, School of Social Work

[Restorative Justice] is a new paradigm of justice emerging on the historical state, a justice that seeks not to punish but to heal, a justice that is not about getting even but about getting well.

Fania Davis, Founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY)

Restorative justice is a growing social movement to institutionalize peaceful approaches to harm, problem-solving and violations of legal and human rights. These range from international peacemaking tribunals such as the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission to innovations within the criminal and juvenile justice systems, schools, social services and communities. Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation, and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to reestablish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. Restorative approaches seek a balanced approach to the needs of the victim, wrongdoer and community through processes that preserve the safety and dignity of all.

– Carolyn Boyes-Watson, Suffolk University