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Restorative justice and transformative justice: Definitions and debates

March 23, 2013

Beyond attempting to restore the victim and community to their pre-crime conditions, RJ is further concerned with assigning to the offender active responsibility as opposed to assigning passive responsibility. This means that rather than being told they committed a crime and then being punished for their indiscretions, offenders are asked to acknowledge their crime and attempt to atone for it. 

From this viewpoint, RJ may be understood to be a third option beyond conservative retribution and liberal rehabilitation. It is essentially an attempt to provide restoration to victims, communities, and offenders.

While coming from the same background as restorative justice, transformative justice (TJ) takes a bit of a bolder approach. Instead of simply seeking to restore the actors, TJ sets out to transform them for the better. As expressed by Wozniak, TJ seeks to change the larger social structure as well as the personal structure of those involved. Realizing the unjustness of our current criminal justice system, transformative justice wants to be productive by providing victims with answers for why they were victimized, recognizing the wrong that has occurred, providing restitution, and restoring/establishing peace and security.  

Highly influenced by Richard Quinney and his writings regarding critical criminology and peacemaking criminology, TJ is aware of the injustices of the world as well as the need to spread peace. As Braithwaite explains, “Crime is an opportunity to prevent greater evils, to confront crime with a grace that transforms human lives to paths of love and giving.”

As for deciding which term is more appropriate (restorative justice vs. transformative justice), it is likely that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. This is because both concepts are essentially reaching for the same goal. 

Still, there is reason for debate. While TJ more plainly states its objective of achieving social-level and individual-level transformation, the less ambitious term restorative justice necessarily leads to questions regarding what we want to restore. If one poor neighbor steals from another poor neighbor, are we just seeking to restore the victim to his previous level of poverty? With the term transformative justice, it is more blatantly clear that we wish to not only provide restitution to the victim, but that we want to improve the overall situation for the victim, the offender, and the community. 

Read the whole entry.

Citations omitted.


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