Have you ever had to make amends for a minor infraction? Maybe you returned your parent's car with an empty gas tank or said something hurtful to a friend? Remember how you felt afterward? Just having that opportunity to apologize and to explain what happened was freeing. It lifted that weight off your chest and helped relieve lingering feelings of guilt and shame. It made your mom, dad, or friend feel better, too. This is restorative justice in action, and it's playing a bigger role within the criminal justice system every day.
What is restorative justice in criminal justice? It's more a repair than a punishment. When successful, it brings closure to each party and lessens feelings of animosity, hatred, or fear. It gives offenders the opportunity to express real remorse, and it allows victims and their loved ones to feel safer and more heard within the legal system processes.
If you're interested in learning more about this restorative approach and how it rehabilitates offenders and addresses the concerns of victims, their families, and their communities, earning your master's degree in criminal justice is a terrific place to begin.
What Is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is giving an offender the opportunity to repair a fraction of the damage they've caused. It has been a topic of conversation since the 1970s. One of its prime objectives is to help victims and their families feel less neglected by the criminal justice system and less adrift in the justice process. While this type of reform is not typically recommended for major crimes, such as sexual assault or murder, it has been used in those scenarios with mixed results.
A good example of restorative justice involves victim-offender mediation, in which the two parties meet in the presence of a facilitator. The victim or their loved one has the opportunity to ask questions such as “Why did you do this?” and the offender is given the chance to explain. In this scenario, both parties must be willing to participate, and the offender's participation is sometimes in exchange for a lesser sentence. This is the process of restorative justice, and it has shown surprisingly positive results.
How Restorative Justice Relates to Criminal Justice
Restorative justice is a technique that's used within the criminal justice system, primarily to give victims and their families a greater voice. Traditionally, it's been an option available to those who've fallen victim to minor crimes, such as vandalism or petty theft. Increasingly, however, it has become more mainstream and may now play roles in more serious crimes, including manslaughter or even murder, though this is rare.
Role of Restorative Justice
This restorative approach has proven to be beneficial to both the victim and the person who committed the crime, because it gives the victim closure and helps to reduce instances of future criminal acts on the part of the offender by as much as 14 percent. It has other benefits as well, including:
- Empowering victims and their families
- Forcing offenders to accept accountability for their crimes
- Lessening symptoms of post-traumatic stress in victims
- Allowing offenders to make reparation or amends
Restorative justice does not work for every victim and every offender. However, many who participate find healing and report that the benefits outweigh the risks. Earning your master's degree in criminal justice may help you play an important role in the administration of restorative justice. Through your hard work and dedication, victims and their families may be able to sleep easier at night, and offenders may think twice before repeating the same mistakes.
If you've been searching for a career that allows you to affect positive change within your community, you may want to pursue training in criminal justice.
Core Elements of Restorative Justice
To be effective, the restorative process must contain key elements that work together to encourage change. Three core concepts must be present. They include the encounter, the repair, and the transformation.
To begin the process, both parties must agree to the encounter, and only offenders who have expressed remorse for their actions are eligible to participate in this type of mediation. A facilitator, as well as law enforcement personnel, may be present to oversee meetings between victims, their loved ones, and offenders.
The meeting will take place in a safe space where everyone feels comfortable, and the participants may vary according to the crime. As a result, it's not only family members who may participate. Sometimes, close friends or even members of the community attend.
Ideally, the logic behind bringing victims and offenders together is two-fold. Victims may find such encounters to be healing. Hearing words of remorse from someone who has harmed them can be transforming. Second, the person who committed the crime has a chance to apologize and to explain their actions.
The most successful mediations bring peace and closure to both parties, and they lessen the chance the offender will commit that same crime again.
Restorative justice helps to identify root causes of why people commit criminal acts, making it instrumental in rehabilitation. It also gives law enforcement agencies vital data they may use to help prevent future crimes.
The overall goal is to make communities safer across the United States and to make community members feel less threatened by and fearful of the activities that occur in their neighborhoods.
Restorative Justice Principles
At its core, restorative justice focuses on reconciliation, including the bringing together of people, families, and communities. It follows a predetermined set of principles, including those outlined below.
Theory of Change
The theory of change applies to the person who committed the crime. It theorizes that when an offender changes their mindset and the negative thoughts they have regarding their self-image, they become better able to change their actions. In other words, by acquiring a new, more positive self-identity, a prisoner may become rehabilitated.
The theory of change also refers to a prisoner's attempt at developing a more positive and beneficial social circle. The goal for developing improved social relationships is to help prisoners stay reformed as they transition back into the community after serving their sentence.
Theory of change requires an offender to re-examine the way they see themselves. Ideally, by reinventing themselves as a more positive and empathetic person, they may lose the desire or impulse to engage in criminal activities.
Reintegration is another strategy that focuses on the offender. Often, those who commit crimes felt set apart from or “othered” by the community at large before committing a wrongdoing. They never felt they "fit in" with mainstream life. They may struggle with mental illness, deficits in education, or a history of being abused as a child, among an array of other factors. As such, they face overwhelming obstacles when attempting to rejoin their communities after incarceration.
Through a restorative approach, they receive intervention services that make it easier to function as a contributing member of society. These may include:
- Transitional housing
- Vocational services
- Help with transportation to and from a job
- Counseling or therapy
- Childcare services
With the right help, the objective is to make it possible for offenders to re-enter life without facing an impossible set of hurdles that make criminal activity seem like it's the only way to survive.
Responsibility, when referring to the restorative approach, refers to the offender's willingness to admit their sins, accept the consequences, and make amends as best they can to those they've harmed. Unless an offender is willing to take responsibility for their actions, they will be unable to participate in restorative programs at any level. Taking responsibility happens in the beginning and then guides the rest of the process.
Forgiveness and Repair
Forgiveness is essential, possibly more for the victim than the perpetrator, because it can be helpful in releasing feelings of anger, hate, or helplessness. Forgiveness can lessen those all-encompassing feelings of hurt or vengefulness that get in the way of healing.
Forgiveness is also beneficial for the perpetrator of the crime because it may give them the courage to apologize and admit what they did was wrong. It may also provide the impetus that puts them on a corrected path for the rest of their life.
Lastly, with forgiveness comes repair. It may help members of a community sleep more easily at night if they know the perpetrator feels real remorse and is unlikely to repeat the crime. It may also be the first step that allows a criminal to begin repairing the broken pieces of their lives.
Common Restorative Justice Practices
Restorative justice uses several proven methods to bring about positive change, including arranging for the victim and the offender to meet in person or via videoconference, along with key support personnel for each. Meetings like these allow open, mediated dialogue to occur, and in some situations, it influences the scope of consequences for the offender.
Using this approach, victims and offenders are brought together in the presence of a facilitator to discuss consequences of the crime. The victim may ask questions and share how the crime impacted them personally. The perpetrator has the opportunity to explain their mindset at the time of the crime and to apologize to those they've hurt.
Family Group Conferencing
Family group conferencing brings together the group of people who have been most directly affected by the crime. Usually, this includes the offender, the victim, their loved ones, or members of the community. It allows everyone involved to better understand the consequences of the crime.
During a victim-offender dialogue, the victim or their loved ones are permitted to meet with the offender and ask questions. This is often instrumental in helping victims find closure and to help them feel as though they have a voice in what happens to the person who committed the crime.
Through the administration of restorative justice, those on both sides of the law benefit. This method is often used to decide consequences for minor offenders or youth offenders in lieu of incarceration. The victim can relay which actions will help restore balance in the wake of the crime, which usually include making monetary restitution, apologizing, or completing a term of community service.
If you're interested in learning more about the criminal justice system and how it serves to rehabilitate offenders, we encourage you to explore the degree options available at Lindenwood University Online. Lindenwood University Online offers bachelor's degrees in criminology and criminal justice, as well as a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Take steps today to launch your career in an exciting and ever-changing field by enrolling in one of our fully accredited online programs. Request more information today.