Restorative Justice and the Criminal Justice System

The modern field of restorative justice developed in the 1970’s from case experiments in several communities with a proportionately sizable Mennonite population. Mennonites and other practitioners in Ontario, Canada, and later in Indiana, experimented with victim offender encounters that led to programs in these communities and later became models for programs throughout the world. Restorative justice theory developed initially from these particular efforts [ (Zehr, 2002) ].

The restorative justice movement originally began as an effort to rethink the needs which crimes create, as well as the roles implicit in crimes. Restorative justice advocates were concerned about needs that were not being met in the usual justice process [ (Zehr, 2002) ].

The criminal justice system’s approach to justice has some important strengths. Yet, there is also a growing acknowledgment of this system’s limits and failures. Victims, offenders, and community members often feel that justice does not adequately meet their needs. Justice professionals, who make up the core components, such as: judges, lawyers, prosecutors, probation and parole officers, and prison staff frequently express a sense of frustration as well. Many feel that the process of justice deepens societal wounds and conflicts rather than contributing to healing or peace [ (Zehr, 2002) ].

Interdisciplinary study and research in public safety and restorative justice is very important. Restorative justice at this day in age will not replace the current court system, but it offers an alternative resolution service for people who want to try another approach. For example, some places are offering mediated victim and offender community conferences.

These conferences provide facilitators to help victims and offenders seek reconciliation and resolution. Restorative justice seeks alternatives to continue to put more and more people in jail. Restorative justice seeks sentences that make amends to the victim of crime and to the community as a whole [ (Zehr, 2002) ]. Restorative Justice 3

My related feel of study is criminal justice. The criminal justice system is not a perfect system by far. The criminal justice system is concerned about holding offenders accountable, but that means making sure offenders get the punishment they deserve.

The restorative justice approach focuses on the harm that has been done to people, individually and as a community. Restorative justice recognizes that crime is wrong and should not occur and also recognizes that after it does, there are dangers and opportunities. Restorative justice has brought an awareness of the limits and negative byproducts of punishment. Beyond that, however, it has argued that punishment is not real accountability. Real accountability involves facing up to what one has done.

It means encouraging offenders to understand the impact of their behavior, the harms they have done, and urging them to take steps to put things right as much as possible [ (Zehr, 2002) ]. Restorative justice and the criminal justice system are two systems that have different views. Restorative justice focuses on harm that has been done to people, individually and as a community. It recognizes that crime is wrong and should not occur, and also recognizes that after it does, there are dangers and opportunities [ (Kelly, 2001) ].

The criminal justice system has three core components, police, courts, and corrections. Each core component has a different function in the criminal justice system. The police functions are to enforce specific laws, investigate specific crimes, search people, vicinities, buildings, arrest or detain people. The police function is primarily a function of cities and states (Overview, 2008). The courts functions are broken down into prosecutors, judges and magistrates. The prosecutors file charges or petitions for adjudication, seek indictments, drop cases and reduce charges.

Restorative Justice 4The judges and magistrates set bail or conditions for release, accept pleas, determine delinquency, dismiss charges, impose sentences, and revoke probation (Overview, 2008). The corrections components are correctional officials and paroling authorities. Correction officials assign to type of correctional facility, award privileges, and punish for disciplinary infractions. The paroling authorities determine date and conditions of parole and revoke parole. Corrections are a primary function of the state and government (Overview, 2008).

Throughout the United States the criminal justice system is in a state of crisis. The public is fearful and angry. Practitioners are weary and frustrated. Criminal justice policy is driven more by anecdote than systematic information. Costs of current policies are not sustainable over long periods. Victims are often re-victimized in the process. The widespread sense of dissatisfaction has caused a fundamental rethinking of our criminal justice system and the formulation of an alternative approach to [ (Criminal Justice Overview) ]criminal justice called restorative justice [ (Pranis, Building Community Support for Restorative Justice: Principles and Strategies) ].

Restorative justice has been a key component in Minnesota’s Department of Corrections. Minnesota’s Commissioner of Corrections, Orville Pung, directed a multifaceted report be developed recommending directions the department should take in the coming decade, the 1990’s. Various committees were developed to study a multitude of issues. One committee was formed to make recommendations concerning restitution to victims, community service work and the department’s sentence to service program.

One of the recommendations made was to form a sitting committee that came to be called the Restorative Justice Ad Hoc Advisory Committee. It was chaired by John McLagan, Sentence to Service Director [ (Minnesota Department of Corrections Restorative Justice Iniative) ].

Restorative Justice 5The first meeting of the Restorative Justice Ad Hoc Advisory Committee took place on September 26, 1990. In November of 1991 the Ad Hoc Committee sponsored the first training session on restorative justice at the Minnesota Corrections Association statewide training conference. On February 2, 1994, Kay Pranis from the Minnesota Citizens Council began her first day on the job as Restorative Justice Planner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. She reported to John McLagan, Director of the Sentence to Service Program.

Minnesota was the first state in the United States to establish a fulltime Restorative Justice Planner within a department of corrections [ (Minnesota Department of Corrections Restorative Justice Iniative) ].

Minnesota Department of Corrections defines restorative justice as a framework that engages victims, offenders and the community in repairing the harm caused by crime. It gives those most affected by crime options for participation in a variety of restorative practices that promote healing [ (Backgrounder: Restorative Justice, 2008) ]. Today, each Minnesota correctional facility has a restorative justice representative and restorative justice committee of staff and offenders working together to raise facility awareness of restorative justice and organize and promote various activities throughout the year. In 2007, a Probation Officer Restorative Justice Network was established to promote restorative justice philosophy and practice [ (Backgrounder: Restorative Justice, 2008) ].

According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, in the existing criminal justice system, offenders may play a passive role and not be held accountable to right the wrong they have committed. However, in the restorative justice framework, offenders become active participants in reparation efforts. Offenders are held directly accountable to victims and are confronted with the personal impact Restorative Justice 6

of their crime. Restorative justice requires them to make amends to thevictim and community in whatever way possible. In Minnesota, offenders are given information on restorative justice practices and activities, and how they may participate while incarcerated in a department of corrections facility [ (Backgrounder: Restorative Justice, 2008) ].

Through restorative justice, victims are offered opportunities to regain the sense of empowerment they may have lost as a result of crime. Victims can express how they were personally impacted by crime and their resulting needs. For interested victims, restorative justice provides a variety of options to dialogue directly with offenders and community [ (Backgrounder: Restorative Justice, 2008) ].

The role of the community also changes dramatically with restorative justice. The community is responsible for supporting and assisting victims, holding offenders accountable and ensuring opportunities for offenders to make amends. Communities are also responsible for addressing the underlying factors and influences of crime, states the Minnesota Department of Corrections [ (Backgrounder: Restorative Justice, 2008) ].

The Minnesota Department of Corrections say there are a number of options for communication between victims and offenders incarcerated in a state prison or on community supervision. Depending on the method of victims and offenders in communication experience chosen, various stages of preparation are involved (DOC). There are programs such as, Victim Offender Dialogue, VOCARE, Exploring Justice, Transition Circles, and Probation Officer Restorative Justice Network.

The Minnesota Correctional Facilities in fiscal year 2007 collected over $406,000 in restitution from offenders and close to $250,000 was collected from inmates for aid to victims of crime.Restorative Justice 7

Minnesota Department of Corrections was the first state in the United States to have a fulltime Restorative Justice Planner. Since then, several adult institutions have begun to apply restorative principles in the institutions [ (Pranis, The Minnesota Restorative Justice Initiative: A Model Experience, 1997) ].

Braithwaite (2001) states, even if restorative justice works, will it really have a major effect on the crime rate? Because more than ninety percent of victimizations will be untouched by meetings between victims and offenders, preventive effects of such restorative justice interventions would have to be massive to register any measurable impact on the overall crime rate.

Restorative justice advocates dream of a day when justice is fully restorative, but whether this is realistic is debatable, at least in the immediate future. More attainable, perhaps, is a time when restorative justice is the norm, while some form of the legal or criminal justice system provided the backup or alternative (Zehr, 2002). Despite their uncertain futures, restorative justice and public safety are already reshaping community corrections around the country (Smith, 2001).

Restorative Justice 8References

Backgrounder: Restorative Justice. (2008, April). Retrieved October 28, 2008, from Minnesota Department of Corrections:, J. (2001). Restorative Justice and Responsive Regulation. Oxford University Press. Criminal Justice Overview. Retrieved September 24, 2008 from Kelly, T. (2001, February). Survivors of Child Homicide vs. The Criminal Justice System. Retrieved October 9, 2008, from

Minnesota Department of Corrections Restorative Justice Iniative. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2008, from Historical Development: Pranis, K. (n.d.). Building Community Support for Restorative Justice: Principles and Strategies. Retrieved October 28, 2008, from International Institute for Restorative Practices:

Pranis, K. (1997, May/June). The Minnesota Restorative Justice Initiative: A Model Experience. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from U.S. Department ofJustice, Office of Justice Programs: restorative-justice/perspectives Smith, M. (2001, June). Sentencing & Corrections: Issues for the 21st Century. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs:

Zehr, H. (2002). The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.