Restorative Justice Essay

Essay on History of Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice - Background

Restorative Justice can be described an effective as well as problem-resolving technique involving the community and the party themselves in a robust relationship initiated with the state authorities. It means that involvement of the victim is as important as that of the offender to resolve a conflict in appropriate circumstances and within controlled environment in which every part is given a chance to describe the consequences to them related to the offence. Efforts are made to convince offender for taking the responsibility of the conflict. Restorative Justice aims to maintain a delicate balance between the victim's concerns and the society so that the offender could reintegrate into community. (Towes, 2004)

Crime under a Restorative Justice is viewed in the social context stressing on making a robust relationship with different other elements instead of a system designed in isolation. The concept of Restorative Justice has mainly been developed in the Western world including countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United States and some Western European nations. Offender, in Restorative Justice, is made to interact with the victims so that he/she can feel the consequences of his/her crime ensuring a behavioral change that can be brought in the future.

Crimes are viewed in a different way highlighting the harm caused and striving to repair the consequences mainly by reducing the chances of crime in the future. Offender, after confronting with the victim, feels the gravity of his/her action and takes the responsibility. As such, Restorative Justice is, in fact, a cooperative effort in a society with the support of government reforming entire system. It involves every stakeholder in a crime with everyone trying to resolve the problem occurring due to the crime and dealing with its consequences collectively.

The Basis of Restorative Justice- Where it comes from?

Process of Restorative Justice provides a huge opportunity for the victims and the persons directly affected by the crime. Moreover, the offender is also given a chance to make repairs by feeling the consequences of the act. The main stakeholders of the crime involved in the process of Restorative Justice are; victim, families, offender, and the representatives of the society. In addition to the countries mentioned above, other nations where the system of Restorative Justice has been developed are; Canada, Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom. (Johnstone, 2001)

The process of Restorative Justice is entirely new style of thinking in criminology. However, its roots are said to be found in the justice system of ancient Greek, Arabs, the Roman Civilization, and Buddhists. The system was revived in the decade of 1940 and significant developments were made in the last decade of the twentieth century. In several countries, Restorative Justice has become a main focus of their criminal justice policies providing and promoting, reconciliation as well as reassurance supported by government and community.

It is pertinent to highlight the difference between Retributive and Restorative Justice. In Retributive Justice, crime is viewed as a violation of state laws making offender and the state responsible. However, in Restorative Justice, crime has been described in entirely new way and not viewed as an offense against state. The offender is made to realize the consequence of act and both- victim and offender- are involved in interactive sessions to resolve the aftermath of crime by dialogue and negotiations supported by the society and government. (Walqrave, 2003)

One of the main objectives of Restorative Justice is to provide a solution and prevent the re-occurrence of crime. As offender assumes the responsibility of the crime in a face-to-face interaction with the victim or the people affected by the incident, the needs of the affected person/s are attended effectively. This rehabilitation process supports in reducing the rate of crime in future. (Hadley, 2001)

Restorative Justice involves communities of care, victims, and all concerned affected by the crime including friends and families increasing social solidarity and harmony among community members. The interactive sessions involving both offender and the victim or people affected by the crime are called as 'circles' or 'conferences' and the people participating are called as 'primary stakeholders'. In Restorative Justice, defendants are given protection against any unbalanced punishment. Victims have not only the right to justice but also right not be bear any more damages.

Theories of Restorative Justice

Several theories have been developed to describe the real theme and working of Restorative Justice. Among them, the most important is 'Control Theory' hypothesizing that state intervention should be strongly related to the community efforts of reform. Theory of neutralization argues that a main aspect in providing opportunity to offender for committing crime was that many techniques of neutralization have been employed to minimize the overall effects of the criminal actions. The theory of abolitionism stresses on replacing state control with more control by society creating personal relationships, harmony, and solidarity. (Zehr, 1990)


The paper has described the concept of Restorative Justice as a new style of thinking in criminology developed and practices mostly in the Western world. Efforts in Restorative Justice are made to convince offender for taking the responsibility of the conflict while interacting with the victim or people affected by the crime and understanding the impact of crime.


Hadley, M 2001, The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice, State University of New York Press

Johnstone, G 2001, Restorative Justice: Ideas, Practices, Debates,

Towes, B 2004, Critical Issues in Restorative Justice, Criminal Justice Press

Walqrave, L 2003, Repositioning Restorative Justice, Willan Publishing

Zehr, H 1990, Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice,

Michelle Maiese

Updated June 2013 by Heidi Burgess and Sarah Cast

Originally published October 2003

"How can justice be found in the face of genocide, a crime so vast and evil that it defies simple justice? Is there restorative justice beyond retribution and revenge? Must some kind of justice be done before healing can take place?"

"[In Rwanda] something different had to be invented, a different way of defining justice, a different way of dispensing it." -- Jane Ciabattari

The Aims of Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is concerned with healing victims' wounds, restoring offenders to law-abiding lives, and repairing harm done to interpersonal relationships and the community. It seeks to involve all stakeholders and provide opportunities for those most affected by the crime to be directly involved in the process of responding to the harm caused.

A central premise of restorative justice is that victims, offenders, and the affected communities are all key stakeholders in the restorative process.[1] Victims include not only those directly affected by the offense, but also family members and members of the affected community. The safety, support, and needs of these victims are the starting points for any restorative justice process. Thus a primary objective is to attend to victims' needs: material, financial, emotional, and social.[2] Addressing these needs and the needs of the community is necessary if public demands for severe punishment are to be quelled.

This requires the assumption that crimes or violations are committed against real individuals, rather than against the state. Restorative justice, therefore, advocatesrestitution to the victim by the offender rather than retribution by the state against the offender. Instead of continuing and escalating the cycle of violence, it tries to restore relationships and stop the violence.[3]

A restorative justice process also aims to empower victims to participate effectively in dialogue or mediation with offenders. Victims take an active role in directing the exchange that takes place, as well as defining the responsibilities and obligations of offenders. Offenders are likewise encouraged to participate in this exchange, to understand the harm they have caused to victims, and to take active responsibility for it. This means making efforts on their parts to set things right, to make amends for their violations, by committing to certain obligations, that may come in the form of reparations, restitution, or community work. While fulfilling these obligations may be experienced as painful, the goal is not revenge, but restoration of healthy relationships between individuals and within communities that have been most affected by the crime.

Restorative justice is a forward-looking, preventive response that strives to understand crime in its social context. It challenges us to examine the root causes of violence and crime in order that these cycles might be broken.[4] This approach is based on the assumption that crime has its origins in social conditions, and recognizes that offenders themselves have often suffered harm. Therefore, communities must both take some responsibility for remedying those conditions that contribute to crime and also work to promote healing.[5]

Healing is crucial not just for victims, but also for offenders. Both the rehabilitation of offenders and their integration into the community are vital aspects of restorative justice. Offenders are treated respectfully and their needs are addressed. Removing them from the community, or imposing any other severe restrictions, is a last resort. It is thought that the best way to prevent re-offending is re-integration.[6]

The justice process in this way strengthens the community and promotes changes that will prevent similar harms from happening in the future. It is generally thought that restorative justice should be integrated with legal justice as a complementary process that improves the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of justice as a whole.[7] Because they focus on the needs of the victim, the offender, and the community, restorative processes can help to determine how the law should be applied most fairly.

Processes at the National Level

Restorative justice at the national level takes on various forms. Victim-offender mediation is perhaps the most common, and involves face-to-face dialogues between victims and offenders. Victims' needs, including the need to be consulted, are the focus. In victim-offender meetings, offenders have a chance to take active steps to make reparation to their victims. This extends further than monetary compensation, and includes an apology and an explanation of how the crime occurred. The offender might also do some work for the victim, or for some community cause selected by the victim.

In addition, offenders have to listen to victims' stories and face up to the reality of what they have done. They are often deeply affected by this experience, and have positive motivation to make reparations. Because this process brings victims and offenders together and enables them to talk to one another, it can allow them to see the other as a person rather than a stereotype. For this process to be effective, a skilled mediator should facilitate these meetings.

Group conferencing is an extension of victim-offender mediation and includes more parties, such as family members of the victim or offender, community contacts, teachers, neighbors, or counselors. The involvement of extra parties can make conferencing more forceful than one-on-one mediation.

Community victim-support organizations work to provide victims with material, psychological, and social support and aid in the healing process. Other organizations offer support services for offenders, including literacy education, relationship counseling, drug counseling, and housing accommodation. Some agencies assist in reintegration for offenders and help them to find employment. Still other groups work to help communities as a whole become less prone to crime.[8]

U.S. school districts plagued by segregation and gang violence are increasingly implementing restorative justice programs for students to develop mutual empathy and address past wrongs through meaningful reparations. An Oakland, California school program that facilitates student conversations by hosting talking circles, for example, is offered as an alternative to "zero tolerance" policies like expulsion.[9] The program thus seeks to replace punitive responses to violence with opportunities to address the root causes of school and community-wide disputes.

Restorative Justice at the International Level

Restorative justice might also have an important role in responding to severe human rights violations or cases of genocide. A crucial step toward restorative justice is taken when governments tell the truth about past atrocities carried out by the state.[10] It is thought that true healing requires three steps:

  1. Remembering the atrocities committed,
  2. Repenting, and
  3. Forgiving.

War crimes inquiries and truth commissions can aid in the process of memory and truth telling, and help to make public the extent to which victims have suffered.

Restoration often becomes a matter of restitution or war reparations. In cases where clear acts of injustice have taken place, some type of compensation can help to meet the material and emotional needs of victims and begin to remedy the injustice. Repentance can also help to re-establish relationships among the conflicting parties and help them to move toward reconciliation. In some cases, conflicts can end more peacefully when parties acknowledge their guilt and apologize than when formal war crimes adjudication or criminal proceedings are used.

In cases of civil war, because the line between offenders and victims can become blurred, a central goal of peacebuilding is to restore the community as a whole. In Northern Ireland, for example, the adoption of restorative justice techniques and practices helped transform destructive practices of punishing various actors into more constructive, non-violent mechanisms of dispute resolution.[11] Restoration often becomes tied to the transformation of the relationship between the conflicting parties. However, such restoration cannot take place unless it is supported by wider social conditions and unless the larger community makes restorative processes available.

Restorative justice in the international context is therefore linked to social structural changes, reconstruction programs to help communities ravaged by conflict, democratization, and the creation of institutions of civil society.

[1] Howard Zehr and H. Mika. 1997.  "Fundamental Concepts of Restorative Justice." Contemporary Justice Review: Issues in Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp. 47-56. <>.

[2] Tony F. Marshall. "Restorative Justice: An Overview," (Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate, 1999). <>.

[3] Peggy Hutchison and Harmon Wray. "What is Restorative Justice?" (New World Outlook, 1999). <>.

[4] Hutchison and Wray.

[5] Marshall, 6.

[6] Zehr and Mika, 2.

[7] Marshall, 7.

[8] See section on "The Cornerposts of Restorative Justice" in Daniel W. Van Ness and Karen Heetderks Strong, Restoring Justice: An Introduction to Restorative Justice. (Elsevier, 2010). <>.

[9] Patricia Leigh Brown. "Opening Up, Students Transform a Vicious Circle" The New York Times. April 3, 2013. <>.

[10] Hutchison and Wray.

[11] Graham Ellison and Peter Shirlow, "From War to Peace: Informalism, Restorative Justice and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland," in Restorative Justice: From Theory to Practice. (Emerald Group Publishing, 2008). <>.

Use the following to cite this article:
Maiese, Michelle. "Restorative Justice." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: October 2003 <>.

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