Definition of Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by unjust behaviour. Restoration is best accomplished through inclusive and cooperative processes.

“Restorative justice” is sometimes used narrowly to refer to programs that bring affected parties together to agree on how to respond to crime (this might be called the encounter conception of restorative justice).  It is used more broadly by others to refer to a theory of reparation and prevention that would influence all criminal justice (the reparative conception).  Finally, it is used most broadly to refer to a belief that the preferred response to all conflict – indeed to all of life – is peacebuilding through dialogue and agreement of the parties (the transformative conception). [Johnstone and Van Ness]  The following definition was adopted for purposes of the RJ City project:

Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by unjust behaviour. Restoration is best accomplished through inclusive and cooperative processes.

The following terminology will be used:

  1. The circumstances that restorative justice addresses:
    1. Harm: injury, damage or loss.

    2. Injustice: the result when someone violates enforceable norms established to govern behaviour among people within a group, community, or society.  This includes not only violations of criminal law but of other enforceable regulations such as student conduct codes in schools, workplace rules, and so forth. 

  2. Approaches to responding to harm:
    1. Reparation: an approach that seeks to repair the harm caused or revealed by the injustice as fully possible.
    2. Retaliation: an approach that intentionally imposes harm, sometimes disproportionate harm, on the wrongdoer in return for the harm done to the victim.
  3. Approaches to responding to injustice:
    1. Peacebuilding: an approach that seeks to use respectful dialogue and agreement to identify the injustice and take steps toward making things right.
    2. Imposition of order: a coercive approach that compels the parties to accept a resolution determined by a third party.
  4. Alternative philosophies for responding to harm and injustice:
    1. When imposition of order and retaliation approaches are applied to harm and injustice, the result is traditional, contemporary criminal justice.
    2. When peacebuilding and reparation approaches are applied to harm and injustice, the result is restorative justice.
      1. Restorative justice: a response to injustice that emphasizes repairing harm caused (and, as feasible, harm revealed) by the crime, using respectful dialogue and agreement among the parties whenever possible.
      2. Restorative justice programs may find it necessary to use some forms of imposition of order in certain instances when the parties fail to cooperate. However, they do not at any point adopt retaliation in responding to the harm caused by an offence.
  5. Elements of a restorative response to injustice:
    1. Restorative process: meetings of parties that take place in the aftermath of an injustice when those parties are willing to use respectful dialogue and agreement to resolve the interests and responsibilities of each. It is preferable for these meetings to involve face-to-face conversations by the parties, but they may also consist of indirect forms of communication through letter, audio- or videotape, or an intermediary.
    2. Restorative outcome: the agreement that results from a restorative process.
    3. Reparative order: a decision by a judicial or otherwise official third party that an offender whose matter cannot be resolved using a restorative process must compensate or otherwise offer reparation to the parties who were harmed.

 

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Johnstone, G and Van Ness, D (2006) ‘The meaning of restorative justice’, in Johnstone, G and Van Ness, D (eds), Handbook of Restorative Justice Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

 

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