Restorative Justice: Bridging the Gap Between Victim and Offender

  • Criminal Justice
  • March 12, 2024
  • 6 min read
Restorative Justice Bridging the Gap Between Victim and Offender

Are you a professional or volunteer currently working in the criminal justice field? Are you an aspiring professional in the criminal justice field? Or are you an engaged citizen interested in learning more about emerging trends in the criminal justice field? 

This article is for you if you answered yes to any of these questions! Today, we’re diving into a relatively new, interesting topic: restorative justice. If you’re like most people, you may have heard the phrase before or maybe have a general understanding of the concept but are not confident you know what it’s all about.

This article will explain the meaning of “restorative justice,” why it’s such an interesting new way to deal with crime, and how it (theoretically) helps everyone involved. Current data about its efficacy is somewhat limited but also very promising.

Understanding Restorative Justice

First, restorative justice is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.”

Instead of simply focusing on punishing the person who committed a crime, restorative justice programs bring them together with the person they hurt in an attempt to reconcile and fix the wrong that occurred. If that sounds pretty “out there,” it is! It is a whole different ball game from what we’re used to.

It’s All About Healing

First and foremost, restorative justice has a different objective than “traditional” criminal justice. 

Traditional criminal justice systems are built around law enforcement professionals observing or monitoring the population to identify crimes, the legal system assessing and validating who was responsible for the criminal activity, and a combination of the two implementing a punishment against the individual who committed the crime(s). 

Restorative justice looks at the harm caused by the crime(s) and tries to heal it. This is not easy and usually fails to conform to the rubric-driven, high-volume approach enabled (and necessitated) by sentencing guidelines. It is inherently less standardized because it recognizes each situation is unique because of who was involved, and therefore, the best solutions are likely to be (at least slightly) unique, too.

Involves Everyone

It is unlikely that most Americans would say the current criminal justice offers a very inclusive, flexible process that considers the perspectives of different people who were directly involved or impacted by a crime. Even people who believe that the current system is generally an effective process usually acknowledge that, at best, it considers the perspective of the victim and the offender. 

In restorative justice, families, friends, and sometimes even the wider community get involved to support the healing process. And it turns out, that it works! According to the Centre for Justice & Reconciliation, victims who go through the restorative justice process feel satisfied 80% of the time. That’s a lot higher than traditional justice methods!

The Benefits of Restorative Justice

Reduces Repeat Offenses

When offenders who commit a crime understand the impact of their actions on a personal level, they’re less likely to do it again. A study by the Justice Department showed a 25% decrease in reoffending rates among participants. 

It may seem like common sense when stated in that fashion, but this approach has not been reflected in our transitional criminal justice system. At the risk of sounding paternalistic, this approach to restorative justice is similar to parenting in certain respects. 

Effective parenting requires you to take the time to explain to your children why they should do something if you want your children to behave in a specific way. This is also true in the workplace with employees. 

Suppose it works with children and with employees. In that case, it makes sense that an effective criminal justice system should offer offenders the same opportunity to connect with why they should change their behavior as opposed to simply punishing them for mistakes.

Heals Emotional Wounds

In addition to being more effective at reducing recidivism, and thus more effective for the system as a whole over the long term, restorative justice offers victims or survivors of crimes additional pathways to find the closure they need to embark upon or complete the healing process. 

Not all victims or survivors will want to participate in such a process, nor are all crimes or offenders perfect fits for this approach. However, it is not necessary for this to be the right fit in all circumstances to add value. It is another tool in our metaphorical toolbelt and offers victims or survivors who want to engage with it the opportunity to share their feelings and get answers to their questions about what happened to them.

Strengthens Community Ties

There is a long history of distrust of law enforcement and the criminal justice system as a whole in certain communities in our country. Restorative justice programs offer a pathway for members of law enforcement and the legal field to bridge the gap between themselves and other members of the public. Bringing people together in this way can help build stronger, more supportive communities.

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Challenges and Considerations

That said, while restorative justice has several distinct benefits, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it may be inappropriate in certain circumstances.

For example, research suggests that restorative justice programs work best at rehabilitating offenders who have taken responsibility for their actions. Offenders who have failed to do so are unlikely to benefit from such an approach. 

Also, some situations, especially those involving serious harm, might not be right for this approach, as there are times when offenders have demonstrated an unequivocal pattern of violence and flagrant disregard for the impact and harm their behavior has caused to others. 

Just like sentencing guidelines with mandatory minimums for certain crimes have been shown over time to be ineffective and inappropriate due to the variability of circumstances that should be taken into account, it would be short-sighted to think that mandatory application of restorative justice protocols would be appropriate in all circumstances.

Finally, it is critical to understand that emotional preparation is key. Both victims and offenders need to be emotionally ready for the process. Sometimes, that may not be possible to accomplish, and victims or survivors should not be pressured or obligated to participate in such a process. It can be tough, but support from trained facilitators can make a big difference.

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Wrapping It Up

Restorative justice offers a new approach to dealing with crime, focusing on healing and understanding rather than punishment. By bringing victims and offenders together, it aims to repair harm and reduce the chance of future offenses. 

As with most things in life, you should be skeptical of anyone who says it is the perfect solution for every situation. However, its benefits can’t be ignored and it should be taken seriously as a potential solution for many circumstances. 

From saving money to healing emotional wounds and strengthening communities, restorative justice can potentially change lives across the country for the better.

Lisa Myers
General Education Department Director

Beginning her career as a Paralegal, Lisa soon advanced to the role of Senior Paralegal for various Family Law, Personal Injury and Corporate law firms in the Las Vegas community. She obtained her Juris Doctor and LL.M, completing her fellowship…Read Full Bio