What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is one part of a larger way of thinking commonly referred to as “Restorative Practices.” It is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. It can be used in conjunction with or as an alternative to our current system of justice. Currently our system of justice in our schools, families, and communities focuses on the rules broken, who broke them, and what punishments will fit the crime. The focus remains on the offender and the rules broken rather than the community living with the impact of these actions. (see figure 1)
Why use Restorative Practices over Punishment?
“Children need our love the most when we think they deserve it the least”
It is important to note that RP/RJ isn’t a program or an approach, it is a new paradigm and a new way of thinking about human behavior. It is an approach that recognizes that punishment has been shown to do more harm than good when teaching discipline and responding to perceived wrongdoing. Punishments can be laced with repercussions and lessons that may not be what we intend. All too often we believe we are teaching discipline and responsibility and instead we teach that the way to get what you want is through power-over tactics, threats, and pushing people away rather than bringing them in close. At best, this teaches youth (and adults) that we only love you when you are doing it the way we want. We get compliance at the expense of influence over future behavior. Punishment has many issues. (See figure 2)
Examples of Restorative Justice
It is important to emphasize that RJ is not a program or gimmick approach to behavior, it is a new way of thinking that moves away from punitive measures and towards approaches that focus on healing, accountability, and change. Below are just some examples of how restorative practices move to restorative justice.
Victim/Offender Dialogue (sometimes referred to as victim/offender mediation):
Reparative Panels (Sometimes referred to as Juvenile Review Boards)