Restorative justice

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Restorative justice (also sometimes called "reparative justice"[1]) is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, "to repair the harm they've done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service".[2] Restorative justice takes crime seriously without increasing repression and exclusion involving both parties and focusing in on their personal needs. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offense against an individual or community rather than the state.[3] Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.[4] According to Zehr and Mika (1998), there are three key ideas that support restorative justice. First, is the understanding that the victim and the surrounding community have both been affected by the action of the offender and in addition, restoration is necessary. Second, the offender's obligation is to make amends with both the victim and the involved community. Third, and the most important process of restorative justice is the concept of 'healing.' This step comes in two different parts: the healing for the victim, as well as meeting the offender's personal needs. Both parties are equally important in this healing process to avoid recidivism and to instill safety back into the victim's life. There are various methods of restorative justice practiced, some examples are victim offender mediation, conferencing, healing circles, victim assistance,ex-offender assistance, restitution, and community service. Each method focuses in on the needs of both the offender and the victim and heals in different ways. Restorative justice principles are characterized by four key values: first, the encounter of both parties. This step involves the offender, the victim, the community and any other party who was involved in the initial crime. Second, the amending process takes place. In this step, the offenders will take the steps necessary to help repair the harm they have caused. Third, reintegration begins. In this phase, restoration of both the victim and the offender takes place. In addition, this step also involves the community and others who were involved in the initial crime. Finally, the inclusion stage provides the open opportunity for both parties to participate in finding a resolution. The process of restorative justice is lengthy and must be committed to by both parties for effective results.

Restorative justice is defined as:

… a broad term which encompasses a growing social movement to institutionalize peaceful approaches to harm, problem-solving and violations of legal and human rights. These range from international peacemaking tribunals such as the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission to innovations within the criminal and juvenile justice systems, schools, social services and communities. Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to reestablish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. Restorative approaches seek a balanced approach to the needs of the victim, wrongdoer and community through processes that preserve the safety and dignity of all".[5]

Restorative justice is very different from either the adversarial legal process or that of civil litigation. "Court-annexed ADR (alternative dispute resolution) and restorative justice could not be philosophically further apart", because the former seeks to address only legally relevant issues and to protect both parties' rights, whereas restorative justice seeks "expanding the issues beyond those that are legally relevant, especially into underlying relationships."[6]

Similarly, citing Greif, Liebmann wrote

a way of looking at restorative justice is to think of it as a balance among a number of different tensions:

- a balance between the therapeutic and the retributive models of justice
- a balance between the rights of offenders and the needs of victims
- a balance between the need to rehabilitate offenders and the duty to protect the public.[7]

Traditional criminal justice seeks answers to three questions: what laws have been broken? who did it? and what do the offender(s) deserve? Restorative justice instead asks: who has been harmed? what are their needs? whose obligations are these?[8]