Restorative Justice is an alternative way of looking at crime that focuses on people rather than laws; obligations or responsibilities rather than proof of guilt, repairing harm rather than punishment. According to Howard Zehr, long considered the “grandfather” of the RJ movement, and a local resident; “Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible”. (2002)
RJ is guided by a different set of questions than is the criminal justice system that is a reflection of its people focus:
• Who has been harmed? vs. What law has been broken?
• What are their (victim) needs? vs. Who did it?
• Whose obligation is those needs? vs. What do they deserve?
In the RJ movement, justice begins with a concern for people harmed by crime and their resulting needs. The legal system tends to overlook the victim’s plight in the pursuit of guilt. The next focus is holding the perpetrator responsible in a meaningful, productive way where they can learn the full impact of their actions. Repairing the harm done to the extent possible is the overall goal. This is done in a collaborative manner with all major stakeholders participating in the process and making the important decisions. In this way the people most affected by a crime are empowered to take part in the justice process and to assist in putting things right. Bringing together the stakeholders in a crime for a collaborative process is called Restorative Community Conferencing.
Benefits of Restorative Justice
To the victim:
- Involvement in the justice process
- Opportunity to tell their story, to be heard and understood.
- Opportunity to ask questions about the crime, such as: Was I targeted?, Will it happen again?, Am I safe?
- Able to express anger and pain directly to person(s) responsible
- Put a face to the offender
- Decrease level of fear by personalizing the offender
To the offender:
- Is held accountable by facing their victims
- See the human cost of his/her actions
- Has opportunity to have a say in making things right
- Has opportunity to develop empathy and responsibility
- Improved relationships with community members
To the community:
- Stronger connections between people
- Community building as members take part in conferences as mediators or participants
- Opportunity to be involved in problem solving instead of relying on the state for solutions
- Long-term health of the community is strengthened
- Decreased fear of crime
- Active involvement in justice process is empowering