Restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law – it also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. So a just response must address those harms as well as the wrongdoing. If the parties are willing, the best way to do this is to help them meet to discuss those harms and how to about bring resolution. Other approaches are available if they are unable or unwilling to meet. Sometimes those meetings lead to transformational changes in their lives.

Notice three big ideas: (1) repair: crime causes harm and justice requires repairing that harm; (2) encounter: the best way to determine how to do that is to have the parties decide together; and (3) transformation: this can cause fundamental changes in people, relationships and communities.

A more formal definition is this: Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet, although other approaches are available when that is impossible. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.

The foundational principles of restorative justice have been summarized as follows:

  1. Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm.
  2. The people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution.
  3. The responsibility of the government is to maintain order and of the community to build peace.

If restorative justice were a building, it would have four cornerposts:

  1. Inclusion of all parties
  2. Encountering the other side
  3. Making amends for the harm
  4. Reintegration of the parties into their communities

To review: restorative justice...

  • is a different way of thinking about crime and our response to crime
  • focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime and reducing future harm through crime prevention
  • requires offenders to take responsibility for their actions and for the harm they have caused
  • seeks redress for victims, recompense by offenders and reintegration of both within the community
  • requires a cooperative effort by communities and the government