Source: (2011) Contemporary Justice Review. 14(4):367-381.

This essay examines the democratic aspects of restorative justice, placing it in the context of a more general civic engagement movement attempting to narrow the distance between citizens and the state. Along with the goals of fostering healing dialogs between victims, offenders, and communities that can lead to forgiveness and restoration of loss rather than compensatory penal harm, restorative justice programs such as the Vermont reparative probation program attempt to share responsibility and decision-making power for the awful tasks of criminal justice. Over the last 35 years, while restorative justice programs have become more widespread and more mainstream, their democratic dimensions have remained underdeveloped. This essay critically reflects on the degree to which restorative justice programs have involved the public in the professional domain of criminal justice administration and how well they have managed to operate within rule-bound bureaucratic environments while remaining informal and open to community members. It also assesses how well restorative justice, as a reform movement, has addressed the so-called populist punitiveness many commentators believe has driven the ‘get tough’ criminal justice policies, such as mandatory minimum sentencing, that make the US the current world leader in imprisonment. (author's abstract)