What is Restorative Justice?

"Restorative Justice", sounds straightforward but with there being so many practices under the umbrella or term "Restorative Justice" what it is, or is not, is often debated.
 It should be acknowledged that Restorative Justice programs generally start with communities from a grassroots perspective. Many cultures have used "restorative practices" in one form or another. 
Lets do our best to help simplify an understanding of Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice is not about specific programs or a specific process, it is a philosophy, a set of principles and values. If Restorative Justice is to have practical application these values need to become the foundation and guiding principles for how a community and its justice system understand every aspect of their response to crime.
Our best formal teachers have been people like Howard Zehr, Susan Sharpe and Mark Umbriet.
Through their teachings we understand that crime requires the response to be focused on the harm done to individuals and the community, not just the act. We understand that those who have been harmed by a crime need to take an active role in determining what needs to be addressed, and how the harms should be repaired.
While a focus on punishment is an appropriate response to addressing the harms done by crimes, it doesn’t touch on important issues that need to be attention; ie. Holding an offender accountable for the harms they have caused, having the offender actively participate in how to make amends for the wrong they have done. That is of far greater value than punishment.
Through restorative processes the offender then has an obligation to the victims and the community that needs to be met.
 The the justice system and community as a whole, has the ability and resources to effectively respond to the harms of crime and to ultimately restore victims and integrate offenders into the community as healthy, whole contributing members of society.
Its important to understand that Restorative Justice has a vision for the future, a focus on outcomes.
 "What is it that we want to see happen in our community?"
We want to  create safe and healthy communities, active partnerships with the justice system that give victims of crime a voice and offenders a chance to actively repair the harms caused and be positive, contributing members of our communities.
I cannot stress enough the importance of including victims into a process that always focused on offenders. If we are going to effectively respond to crime, the justice system must have a more balanced approach to meet the needs of victims, offenders and the community.
If we are working restoratively in as individuals in our schools and communities we will recognize that behind crime and harm there are people. 
So what is restorative Justice?  At its heart, Restorative Justice is about repairing harm restoring hope and healing relationship.
Mary Bracken
Pamela MacKay