The Principles of Restorative Justice


Provinces in Canada have been experimenting with new approaches to justice for several decades, through programs on restorative justice. What is restorative justice? This article introduces the basic principles of that approach. 


It might be useful to start by contrasting the current system of retributive justice with restorative justice. While the former is about establishing guilt and punishing the offender, leaving little place for the victim who is treated as a simple witness, the latter focuses on problem solving, looks at possibilities for repairing the harm done, and gives a central role to the victim. We suggest that the three main principles of restorative justice include the  acknowledgement of the victim, the restoration of their positivity and reestablishment of their feeling of safety. Canadian aboriginal communities have used restorative justice techniques throughout their cultural history.


Mediate2go.com: Principles of Restorative Justice
While in practice there are various approaches and processes, here are 8 principles of restorative justice that provide further insights into restorative justice (adapted from this list by Correctional Service Canada): 
  1. Understanding the impact of the harmful behaviour: Appropriate response to crime requires the focus to be on the harm caused by crime and the full effects of the criminal behavior. Crime is not seen only as a legal issue (breaking the law). The process of restorative justice provides space to address damage to individuals, their property, their relationships and their communities. There is also an acknowledgement of harm created by the criminal justice process itself.
  2. Inclusion: All people affected by the crime are engaged in the restorative justice process, including the victim, offender, their individual support people and the community.
  3. Accountability: The process of restorative justice allows the offender to take responsibility for the harm created by their actions, directly to those harmed, including recognition of what occurred and corrective actions to address the harm done, to the degree possible. Through the hearing of all points of view, the community also has an opportunity to see its role in contributing to the crime. 
  4. Safety: This aspect is defined as 1) the need to restore a sense of security to those impacted by the crime and 2) the need to create processes of restorative justice that are safe, respect the rights of participants and address power imbalances.
  5. Transformation: The long term goal of restorative justice is to provide opportunities for healing, personal growth, reparation of harm and restoration of positive relationships.
  6. Voluntary: Participants can choose whether to participate and can also make choices to influence the process design.
  7. Humanistic: Restorative justice is based on values of respect, compassion, dignity, honesty, openness, and growth. Fairness and equality/equity are also essential, as well as taking into account the multicultural issues.
  8. Interaction: Communication, either direct or indirect, between those impacted by the crime is typically required.
  9. Holistic: These processes take into consideration and value the full breadth of each individual participant as well as the larger context in which they function. This includes appreciation of the physical, psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual and social context surrounding each person as well as the environment.
Interestingly, neuroscience seems to offer evidence that supports the implementation of these principles in our justice system. In this TED talk, The neuroscience of restorative justice, Daniel Reisel discusses his research on how we can help the brain re-grow morality. He explains that “the brain is capable of extraordinary change, way into adulthood”. He studied the brains of repeat offenders and psychopaths, for whom the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for feeling empathy, is very small, and he suggests that restorative justice meetings could help stimulate the growth of the amygdala and thus reduce the potential of a repeat offence.  While people with this condition might be considered the extreme, the fact that the brain can change when exposed to the right stimulation provides hope that restorative justice may have a positive impact on individuals and communities.
Start your own restorative justice program with Mediate2go.com. It only takes minutes to get your directory page listed and case management system in place. With a bit of training, you can help contribute to justice in your community.
Some links about restorative justice:
Mediate2go.com Contributor:
Léa Préfontaine holds a bachelor in civil law and common law from McGill University. Prior to her legal studies, she also completed a bachelor in business and a masters in economics. She will be an articling student at the Protecteur du citoyen (Québec Ombudsman) starting in June 2014. Léa is passionnate about dispute resolution and access to justice.

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