Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, offenders, as well as the broader community – instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions by repairing the harm they have caused as opposed to focus on what law that was broken.
The Center for Restorative Youth Justice operates programs based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offense against an individual or community rather than the state.
Key ideas and values that support restorative justice include:
- Crime hurts individual victims, communities, and juvenile offenders and creates an obligation to make things right.
- All parties should be a part of the response to the crime, including the victim if he or she wishes, the community, and the juvenile offender.
- The victims perspective is central to deciding how to repair the harm caused by the crime.
- Accountability for the juvenile offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done.
- The community is responsible for the well-being of all its members, including both victim and offender.
- All human beings have dignity and worth.
Principles of Restorative Justice
Restorative Justice defines accountability as taking responsibility and taking action to repair the harm caused by specific actions or decisions. Accountability in the RJ Model takes different forms than in the traditional juvenile justice system – Accountability in most juvenile justice systems is interpreted as punishment or adherence to a set of rules laid down by the system. However, neither being punished nor following a set of rules involves taking full responsibility for behavior or making repairs for the harm caused. Punishment and adherence to rules do not necessarily facilitate moral development at a level that is achieved by taking full responsibility for behavior.
Taking full responsibility or accountability for a behavior requires:
- Understanding how that behavior affected other human beings (not just the courts or officials).
- Acknowledging that the behavior resulted from a choice that could have been made differently.
- Acknowledging to all affected that the behavior was harmful to others.
- Taking action to repair the harm where possible.
- Making changes necessary to avoid such behavior in the future.
To fully acknowledge responsibility for harm to others is a painful experience. It is, however, a process that opens up the opportunity for personal growth that may reduce the likelihood of repeating the harmful behavior. It is difficult to accept full responsibility for harming others without a support system in place and a sense that there will be an opportunity to gain acceptance in the community. Therefore, accountability and support must go hand in hand.
The process of competency development is defined as a lifelong series of doing and reflecting. Competency is also thought of as the capacity to do something well that others value. Youth, like all of us, need to become competent, caring individuals who are concerned and connected to those around them.
The restorative justice approach holds youth offenders accountable for their behavior while providing important opportunities for them to belong, contribute, form close relationships, make meaningfull choices, develop transferable skills – all while avoiding harmful behavior.
To allow youth to practice and demonstrate these skills, offenders need meaningful community roles that contribute to the well-being of others. Restorative community service allows youth to develop these competencies. Restorative community service involves work in the community with a purposeful outcome that the offender can recognize. This work should meet a real need expressed by the community, with the opportunity to have the work positively acknowledged by community members.
A major goal of competency development strategies is to establish a place of value for the juvenile in the community that creates an incentive for abiding by the norms of the community.
Achieving community safety requires practices that reduce risk and promote the community’s capacity to manage behavior. Restorative community safety is not focused only on short-term external control of individual juvenile offenders, but also works with adults and youth to change behavior. Community safety is achieved when community members live in peace, harmony, and mutual respect and when citizens and community groups feel that they personally can prevent and control crime.
Many strategies used for accountability and competency development goals can also contribute to community safety goals. For example, community service contributes to community safety by providing structured, supportive opportunities for youth to develop connections to their community. Most forms of competency development involve structured activities with adults or mentors which reduces the opportunity for youth to offend.
Restorative Justice Methods:
There are various methods of restorative justice practiced, some examples are victim offender mediation, conferencing, healing circles, victim assistance, ex-offender assistance, restitution, and community service. Each method focuses in on the needs of both the offender and the victim and heals in different ways.