Restorative justice is a victim-focused, community-based approach for responding to crime that focuses on the harm that was caused and what needs to happen to make things better. The goal is to build understanding, encourage accountability, and provide an opportunity for healing.
How is it different from traditional criminal justice?
Restorative justice addresses a criminal act in the context of the people harmed and the community affected, rather than as an offense against an impersonal “state.” People who offend harm victims, community, and themselves, so restorative justice facilitates the mending of these relationships and helps prevent further offending.
Restorative justice is rooted in the following principles:
- Crime is a violation of people and relationships.
- Crime harms the whole community, and harm creates obligations.
- Justice involves community members helping those who caused harm to take responsibility and make things as right as possible for victims and other affected parties. Resolution must include active participation by the individuals most directly involved — victims, people who offended, and community members — who may be supported by friends, family, and the community in an effort to resolve the matter.
According to Vermont Title 28, Section 2A, “It is the policy of this state that principles of restorative justice be included in shaping how the criminal justice system responds to persons charged with, or convicted of, criminal offenses… The policy goal is a community response to a person’s wrongdoing at its earliest onset, and a type and intensity of sanction tailored to each instance of wrongdoing.”
How does it work?
A person is typically referred to a community justice center for restorative justice by someone in the criminal justice system: the police, the State’s Attorney, or the Court. Structured dialogue invites affected parties to define the harm and ask for what they need. It leads to accountability and amends-making by the person who committed the offense.
A person may complete a restorative justice program as an alternative to being charged with a crime or being prosecuted. If the offender is referred and does not complete the restorative justice program, he or she will be sent back and held accountable for the offense by the criminal justice system. A referral to a restorative justice program may also take place after a conviction.
Who is using restorative justice processes?
Restorative justice is becoming a widely accepted practice throughout the country — by educators in schools, and by law enforcement and the courts as an alternative or enhancement to traditional criminal justice. True restorative practices are deeply rooted in local communities, where those most directly affected by wrongdoing have a role in determining the best way to repair the harm. Defense attorneys can encourage their clients to agree to restorative options that help them to be accountable and embrace a law-abiding life, while prosecuting attorneys can offer restorative options that help victims heal and people who offend to make amends and make better choices in the future.
What’s more, restorative justice is a practical option for communities seeking ways to reduce costs and enhance safety and well-being. The Community Justice Network of Vermont provides information to legislators seeking to find proven, cost-effective means to reduce recidivism and incarceration rates.