The authority of the state is a powerful source of social control. Even if restorative processes are used, the State's powers remain to give effect to the agreement, to enforce it. This makes restorative justice particularly susceptible to the distorting influences and initiatives of a State apparatus geared towards punishment. Some have argued that restorative processes and/or outcomes may be used to satisfy retributive impulses, even though the victim and offender have reached an agreement in mediation.

Goal displacement for utilitarian reasons is also a source of distortion, especially given the fiscal attractiveness of diversion of offenders to restorative processes. Cost-effectiveness and maximizing social utility could become the primary concern instead of reparation or restoration.

An example of co-option is when restitution is made an additional sanction to punitive sanctions already imposed, rather than an alternative sanction, thereby exacting more punishment on the offender.

Some have suggested that two things must be done to prevent the co-option of reparative sanctions: 1) coming to a reparative solution must be a voluntary process, and 2) the intent of the whole system should be reparative. Conditional deferment of prosecution of adjournment of a case could affirm the primary importance of reparation by first allowing the parties voluntarily take part in a restorative process. If satisfactory reparation were made, the case need not return to the court. By strictly linking the social reaction to the offence, the sanction would be reparative in intent.

This document was prepared by Christopher Bright. Copyright by Prison Fellowship International.