Restorative justice is a model of criminal justice system whereby justice pursued is based on the victims as well as the offenders’ needs rather than the need to fulfill the abstract tenets of the law or those of the community. This form of criminal justice system focuses on the victim as an active participant towards healing and reintegration as well as on the offender who is required to own up to his/her mistakes by admitting and being responsible for the harm caused. The model is based on the principle that crime must be viewed as a conflict between two individuals and not between the offenders and the state. It further premises that the enforcement of law and order should be a responsibility of all members of a community (Daly & Immarigeon, 1998). It is mainly based on the realization of forgiveness, reparation, healing and reintegration in the search for justice. This model of criminal justice has its origin in many ancient and indigenous cultures, most notable being the Australian aborigines and has borrowed a lot from the Judaism beliefs that advocate for healing and forgiveness. More recently it has been widely practiced by the Canadian authorities since mid-1970s. The United States started embracing the ideas of restorative justice in the 1990s at the time when the ineffectiveness of retribution was being voiced from all quarters of the society (Graef, 2000).
Restorative justice has received much respect as an alternative innovation and thus it is frequently contrasted with the established justice approaches (Hatfield, Rapson, & Aumer-Ryan, 2008). It has been considered by some as far much superior to the conventional retribution and rehabilitation processes. The main difference that makes it quite unique from the conventional approaches to justice as been on one of its central premise. While most conventional justice processes are operating on the premise that once crimes or offences have been committed, the offender is liable to the state and the victim would not be of much focus in realizing justice. The restorative justice approach considers a crime of offense to be a dispute between individuals. It therefore champions retribution by the offenders to their victims as opposed to the conventional approaches that require the state retribution against the offenders (Roach, 2000).
Again, the restorative justice puts the victims, the offenders as well as their communities at the centre of the restorative process. While the conventional processes of justice will focus on the offender and only require the victims and the community to participate by testifying, the restorative approaches considers the whole community; victim, family members of the victims and the neighbors of the victim as well as those of the offender. It is considered that the needs of the victims and that of the community vis-à-vis that of the offender are the most important objectives of the restorative process (Hatfield, Rapson, & Aumer-Ryan, 2008). It realizes that any form of justice must start with satisfying the needs of both parties in terms of safety, social and emotional support. It therefore offers those most affected by the harm the opportunity to come together in finding a remedy to the harm caused. This is quite contrasted by the retributive and rehabilitation processes that squarely deal with the offender and do not much concentrates on the needs of those affected by the harm (Daly & Immarigeon, 1998).
While the conventional justice approaches would not focus much on the victim but rather on the act and the offender and decide on the best punishment without much consideration of the needs of the victims, restorative justice empowers the victim to decide on the best course of action. Graef (2000) suggest that the victims are given a platform to effectively participate in mediation or dialogue with their offenders. In this regard, they have an active role in defining both the responsibilities and the obligations of those who offended them. The offenders are also required to participate actively in this process in order to understand how the victims are affected and take full responsibility for their action (Törnblom & Vermunt, 2007).
This process works towards setting things rights, to amend the harms by committing themselves to a few obligations through reparations, communal works or restitution. Although these obligations could be painful especially when it comes to fulfilling them just like in most conventional justice approaches, restorative justice focuses not on revenge but on healing and reintegration unlike the conventional justice processes (Törnblom, & Vermunt, 2007). Healing and satisfaction that justice has been done is not only important to the victim but also to the offenders who must be reintegrated into the community. Thus, the restorative focus is on attaining the best and mutual satisfaction for both the victim and the offender.
Benefits of restorative justice
Restorative justice has been hailed as an ambitious preventive response to the perennial crime problems. It challenges the conventional thinking and approaches to crime to try and understand the root causes of crime and to analyze how best these cycles could be broken. It is for this that it strives to examine crime and violence in their social context. The approach is deeply rooted on the premise that crimes are manifestations of social conditions, and therefore recognizes the offenders as victims of some harm or injustices in the society. In that regard it mandates the community to take charge in searching for solutions for those conditions that perpetuates crime as well as those that promote healing (Graef, 2000).
As I discussed above in the difference, healing is not only essential to the victim of crimes but also to the offenders. Restorative justice work to achieve this as well as to rehabilitate and reintegrate the offenders into the community. Under this process offenders receive respectful treatment and their needs are catered for. Removing the offenders from the society or imposing some restrictions has proved many times to be ineffective in reducing crime recidivism, but still remain a last option this process (Hatfield, Rapson, & Aumer-Ryan, 2008). Reintegration has been considered to contribute much on reducing re-offending by offenders. It is believed that justice attained through this process strengthens the community and encourages positive changes that would hinder reoccurrence of similar acts in future.
The offender-victim dialogue or mediation which involves face-to-face encounters could be most beneficial to both parties. In such encounters, the offenders are presented by the best opportunity to make amends with their victims. This may extend further and include not only monetary compensation but also sincere apology as well as some explanation of what may have led to the crime. In making the parties more open, they may be able to see one another not as stereotype but rather as a person (Törnblom & Vermunt, 2007).
Restorative justice is quite beneficial to the victims because it offers them an opportunity to set the responsibilities as well as the obligations of the offender. Hatfield, Rapson, & Aumer-Ryan, (2008) contend that the process simply empowers the victim by giving them the platform to confront their offenders and amicably come up with a solution. At the end of the process both but more certainly the victim will have a feeling of fairness.
Finally, restorative justice has been considered much beneficial in juvenile cases where the minor may not be able to take responsibility for their mistakes or where the victims may not be able to have a better mount a strong a challenge in the conventional courts. In fact, a few pilot testing of the system has been ongoing in juvenile courts in many countries (Roberts & Roach, 2003).
The benefits of restorative justice cannot be gainsaid. The restorative justice processes not only ensure satisfaction for the offender and the victim, but promote harmony and healing in the community. The processes also may reduce the offender’s recidivism and this would largely contribute to reduction of crimes. However, it is my humble opinion that this process and its sanctions should not be embraced as a replacement to the punishments or conventional sanctions but rather should be embraced as alternative punishments.
Daly, K. & Immarigeon, R. (1998). The Past, Present, and Future of Restorative Justice: Some Critical Reflections. Contemporary Justice Review. Vol.1, 21-45.
Graef, R. (2000). Why Restorative Justice? Repairing The Harm Caused By Crime. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation: London.
Hatfield, E., Rapson, R. L., & Aumer-Ryan, K. (2008). Social Justice in Love
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Roach, K. (2000). Changing Punishment at the Turn of the Century: Restorative Justice on the Rise. Canadian Journal of Criminology. Vol. 42, 249-80.
Roberts, J. & Roach, K. (2003). Restorative Justice in Canada. In A. von Hirsch, J. Roberts, A. E. Bottoms, K. Roach and M. Schiff (eds.) Restorative justice and criminal justice: Competing or reconcilable paradigms? 237-56. Hart: Oxford.
Törnblom, K. Y., & Vermunt, R. (2007). Towards An Integration of Distributive Justice, Procedural Justice, and Social Resource Theories. Social Justice Research. Vol. 20, 312-335.