Restorative Justice Practices Background

RestorativeIn the United States, Restorative Justice programs and practices evolved from efforts of the victims’ rights movement, neighborhood justice initiatives, and mediation practices of the 1970’s as a means to engage victims and communities in the criminal justice process, which traditionally focused solely on the offender. Restorative Justice continued to gain national and international recognition in the late 1990’s led by efforts of Howard Zehr, Ph.D., known as the “grandfather of restorative justice.”1 Empirical research contributions by Mark Umbreit, Ph.D.,2 at the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota, has supported the advancement and implementation of RJ practices across the continuum of the criminal justice system. Restorative Justice strives to promote healing and restoration of those harmed and affected by crime through structured communication processes that includes victims, offenders, community and government (court) officials. The practices afford opportunities for those impacted by crime to hold offenders accountable, address root causes of offending behavior, assess and meet unmet needs, and collectively develop a restoration plan for the offender, family, and community.

The Restorative Justice response to juveniles is largely due to the emergence of research3 evidencing the positive impact that Restorative Justice programs have had on reducing recidivism4 in juvenile offenders. To ensure the effective implementation of Restorative Justice Practices, professionals in the field are tasked with developing new roles, setting new priorities, and redirecting resources to transform juvenile justice systems within a restorative framework.

Misperceptions about RJP,  given its unique practice model and focus on restoration rather than on punishment, abound that it is a “soft” approach to crime and lacks accountability. In fact, restoration invokes values that align with adolescent development and positive youth development including responsibility and accountability, fostering listening skills and empathy, and recognition that youth who remain connected and supported by their community mature into pro-social, active citizens.

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What are Restorative Justice Practices?

Restorative Justice Practices, also known as Restorative Practices, are a set of relational, communication approaches used to facilitate meaningful conversations to prevent harm, as well as to restore relationships wherein harm has occurred and conflict exists between people. They have evolved as a tool to improve school climate and educational outcomes, and provide structure for organizing effective group
communication, building relationships, decision-making and resolving conflicts. “Restorative practices support youth and adults to bring forward their ‘best self’ and offer a space where they can learn and practice value-based behavior.”5

Why are Restorative Justice Practices important?

As previously stated, Restorative Practices focus on separating the deed (in many cases a destructive or harmful deed) from the doer. This model supports placing a high value on the dignity of all people, and looks at individual choices to commit crime or cause harm as separate from the integrity of the person who acted destructively. RP also focuses on supporting the victim by creating the opportunity to help the person harmed heal and if possible, restore their relationship(s) with the person/people who committed the harmful act. This overall shift in orientation from punitive justice to an approach that restores relationships and provides support to victims leads to greater outcomes for everyone involved.

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4 National Institute of Corrections. (2001). Restorative Justice: Principles, Practices and Implementation. United States Department of Justice. Section 4, “Building Community Resource Capacity”, pp. 239-240.
5 http://www.suffolk.edu/college/centers/14521.php

Common RJ Practices