Restorative justice is a different way of thinking about and responding to crime. It brings together those who have a stake in a specific crime, and tries to give them what they need to put things as right as possible. Restorative justice is a voluntary process that focuses on the victim’s needs and the offender’s responsibility to repair the harm.(or repairing the harm). 

When offenders admit their wrongdoing, restorative justice offers the opportunity to bring them together with victims and other people concerned with the crime to talk about what happened and how it impacts everyone.  Each person involved in the restorative process voluntarily agrees to meet to share their thoughts and feelings and to have a say in what needs to happen to address the  harm done. This can assist them in healing (or repairing the harm). 

During a restorative justice process, victims are invited to tell their story. They may explain how the crime has affected them and ask the offender tough questions. Often victims learn, for the first time, everything that happened during the incident and have many of their questions answered. Restorative justice requires that offenders take responsibility for their actions. Offenders describe the crime and their actions to the victim. They respond to the victim’s questions, explain why they did what they did, and sometimes say they’re sorry. Learning first-hand how they have wronged others helps offenders accept responsibility, while answering questions makes them accountable to those they have harmed.

Family and friends of both victims and offenders may participate in a restorative justice process, and discuss the impact that the crime has had on them. Community members can also participate to support their neighbours, and suggest ideas for how offenders can contribute or improve their neighbourhoods. Through the restorative justice process, victims say how they have been hurt and what they need to feel safe again. Offenders acknowledge and accept the obligations they have to repair the harm they have caused. Then, the whole group has a say in what needs to happen for the offenders to make up for the wrong they have done. The group’s decisions are usually written up into some form of an agreement which the offenders then follow.

Restorative justice is used alongside the criminal justice system in countries around the world and has been adapted for use in schools, workplaces and communities to address non-criminal issues.


Pamela MacKay