What is Restorative Justice (RJ)?
Restorative justice is a form of problem-solving and conflict resolution based on these essential principles:
- When a conflict occurs, the focus is on harm done to individuals and relationships;
- Doing harm creates obligations and liabilities;
- Moving forward from a dispute towards a sustainable solution involves the community.
Criminal justice asks the questions:
- Who did it?
- What law was broken?
- What is the punishment?
Restorative justice asks:
- What happened?
- Who was harmed/affected and how?
- What amends can be made?
The spectrum of restorative justice programming is vast and spans not just the national arena but the international/global as well. RJ programs generally encompass these key values:
- Creating opportunities for parties to a conflict to encounter each other, and meet to discuss the issue/problem/challenge.
- The expectation that those who have done harm will seek to make amends in order to repair the harm they’ve caused; whether it’s to others, their community, their family, or themselves.
- Seeking to reintegrate those who have done harm. Inherent in this concept is the value placed on all individuals for their unique place in the complex web of their social support systems, and the knowledge that community is not whole without all its members.
- Providing opportunities for inclusion of all parties to a dispute or conflict to take part in its resolution.
What is the difference between restorative practice and restorative justice?
Restorative Justice (RJ) is a form of conflict resolution that is based on mutual understanding, repairing relationships, and community reintegration. Restorative Practice (RP) refers to the broader use of restorative principles across social, professional, educational, and personal spheres. Another way of thinking about RP is as a collective of values, practices, philosophies, and methodologies that uphold resilience-building and healthy relationships. While conflict is not always present, we can still draw from RP to create supportive community development and be preventative in our approach to solving conflict, whenever it arises.
Indigenous Restorative Practices
RJ is derived from traditional indigenous healing and conflict resolution practices. The philosophy and format of a reparative circle closely resemble the Talking Circles carried out in Native American culture. It is important to understand and inform ourselves about the roots of these traditional practices, since they carry the lineage of today’s RP work.
RJ: A brief (Western) history
The field of RJ work in the United States emerged in the 1970’s, as advocates and legal professionals searched for methods that were more successful than the punitive criminal justice model. Through the 1980’s, experimental programs continued to educate and raise awareness about RJ practices, though they were generally relegated to first-time offenses and minor crimes. In 1994, the American Bar Association officially endorsed victim-offender mediation and shortly thereafter, the National Organization for Victim Assistance published a landmark report called Restorative Community Justice: A Call to Action. This monograph laid out a theoretical discussion of RJ and compared it to other criminal justice models.
The institutionalization of RJ has continued and today more than thirty states have committed to restorative principles through policy-making and legislation.
Watch a video of RCJSV Executive Director, Dan DeWalt, talking about the benefits and practice of RJ.
Peggy Smith: Open Communication – resources about Nonviolent Communication.
Community Justice Centers in Southeastern Vermont:
Community Justice Network of Vermont (state-wide)