For many kinds of minor offences, restorative justice is a viable alternative to the law courts, providing a means of repairing the harm caused by crime and violence by:
- addressing victims’ needs (Those harmed are listened to and acknowledged, receive answers to their questions, experience an increased sense of safety and, in some cases, receive financial compensation from those causing the harm.)
- holding offenders meaningfully accountable for their actions (Those responsible for causing harm have an opportunity to talk about the circumstances surrounding their actions and can fulfil their obligations to those they harmed and to the community in ways that can be more meaningful than through other criminal justice processes.)
- engaging the community in the justice process
To achieve this, those causing harm accept responsibility for their role in an offence and for the harm they have caused. Those who are harmed must also voluntarily choose to participate. Communities are given an opportunity to provide support, offer their input and assist in efforts to help the offender become a contributing member of the community.
In a restorative justice conference the wronged individual and the person responsible for the wrong are brought together to mutually agree to measures that will “make it right.” This may involve measures to repay the wronged person for losses sustained or it may involve community service.
The conference is often also a learning process for those involved. The person causing harm learns of the consequences of what was done and the person harmed develops increased awareness of the context of what was done and perhaps how something similar might be prevented in the future.
Restorative justice can be contrasted with retributive justice by the fundamental questions each poses:Because an offence hurts the community, volunteers from the community facilitate the discussion on how to address the harm that was done. At the same time, these volunteer community members help those responsible for causing harm to restore or mend the damage they caused so that they can function effectively and without shame as active community members. The conference agreement is reached by the two parties involved, and the community members act only as facilitators in the process.
|Retributive Justice||Restorative Justice|
|What rule has been broken?||Who has been harmed?|
|Who is to blame?||How have they been affected?|
|What is the punishment going to be?||What needs to happen to make things right?|
The traditional criminal justice system, with its emphasis on punishment and retribution unrelated to an offense, often lacks meaning for those causing harm or damage to others. As well, it usually ignores those experiencing harm, inconvenience or loss committed by others, and has had limited success in fostering social responsibility in those causing harm. Restorative justice brings meaning to the process by inculcating social responsibility in the person causing harm, looks after the interests of those who have been harmed and allows the community to be involved in helping both those who have hurt and those who have been hurt.