Programs labelled "restorative" do not automatically maintain a restorative vision. That is, processes and outcomes may not be restorative. For example, restitution may be added to incarceration in order to exact more retribution on the offender; restitution would not serve restorative purposes, but retributive ones. Furthermore, a process may not be implemented in a restorative manner. Finally, in the quest for widespread acceptance of a restorative justice system, funding and utilitarian concerns may cloud the underlying principles and values of restorative justice.

The restorative vision may be subverted by criminal justice interests: the systemic interest in retribution; the momentum of an offender-oriented system; and systemic self-interest in self-preservation. Moreover, administrative goals and measurements that define "success" in terms of utilitarian concerns may subvert the restorative vision. As restorative programs employ professionals, these professionals may cast the programme in terms that would preserve their own livelihoods. Traditional criminal justice values persist. Finally, different goals may conflict. A program designed to divert offenders from incarceration may conflict with concern for the safety of the victim.

To assure that a program is consistent with restorative justice principles, program administrators must check the program's goals and implementation against the paradigms that define restorative justice. Moreover, the degree to which the existing criminal justice system incorporates restorative principles can be assessed: program administrators responsible for oversight could be equiped with an inventory that assesses the degree to which it incorporates and departs from restorative ideals.

One way of evaluating a program is to cast the foundations of restorative justice in the form of interrogatories.

  • Does the program pursue the goal of restoration for all parties?
  • Does the program meet the needs of victim, offender and community?
  • Does the program facilitate effective community-government cooperation?
  • Does the program retain its own restorative objectives, even as it encounters adverse political and institutional forces?

This is not to say that retributive and rehabilitative purposes will be eliminated, especially in practice. However, restorative purposes should be primary. If a program does not clearly prioritize its purposes with restoration as its primary aim, conflicts are bound to occur. Given the momentum that our retributive-based system already has, it would be next to impossible to expect that restorative justice will be implemented without clearly prioritizing the program's purposes with restoration primary.

Howard Zehr's A Restorative Justice Yardstick provides a useful means of measuring the degree to which a restorative program is truly restorative. The questions posed above were adapted from this resource. Zehr asks:

1. Do victims experience justice?

  • Are there sufficient opportunities for them to tell their truth to relevant listeners?
  • Are they receiving needed compensation or restitution?
  • Is the injustice adequately acknowledged?
  • Are they sufficiently protected against further violation?
  • Does the outcome adequately reflect the severity of the offence?
  • Are they receiving adequate information about the event, the offender, and the process?
  • Do they have a voice in the process?
  • Is the experience of justice adequately public?
  • Do they have support from others?
  • Are their families receiving adequate assistance and support?
  • Are other needs--material, psychological, spiritual--being addressed?

2. Do offenders experience justice?

  • Are they encouraged to understand and take responsibility for what they have done?
  • Are misattributions challenged?
  • Are they provided encouragement and opportunity to make things right?
  • Are they given the opportunity to participate in the process?
  • Is there encouragement towards changed behaviour (repentance)?
  • Is there a mechanism for monitoring or verifying changes?
  • Are their own needs being addressed?
  • Are their families receiving support and assistance?

3. Is the victim-offender relationship addressed?

  • Is there opportunity for a meeting, if appropriate--either direct or therapeutic?
  • Is there opportunity for an exchange of information--about the event, about one another?
  • Are misattributions being challenged?

4. Are community concerns being taken into account?

  • Is the process and outcome sufficiently public?
  • Is community protection being addressed?
  • Is there need for some restitution or symbolic action for the community?
  • Is the community represented in some way in the process?

5. Is the future being addressed?

  • Is there provision for solving the problems which led up to this event?
  • Is there provision for solving problems caused by this event?
  • Have future intentions been addressed?
  • Is there provision for monitoring, verifying, and troubleshooting outcomes?

Others suggest evaluating the extent to which a program satisfies restorative criteria:

  • The proportion of victims given the opportunity to meet their offenders-- without pressure to do so--whether or not they take advantage of it.
  • The proportion of offenders who make reparation voluntarily or by order of the court (or the proportion of serious offenders who do so).
  • Of these, the proportion of offenders who complete their reparation through payments, services, etc.
  • The extent to which the victim's loss (or at least their wish for reparation) is met; or the number of hours, and value, of service to the community.

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