Category: Law Essay

Restorative Justice (RJ) offers an alternative approach to deal with criminals. RJ models emphasize the needs of victims and offender accountability. Another important aspect of the RJ models is that the government is a secondary actor in the restoration process that has the main objective of restoring communities, offenders and victims in a wholeness state. RJ emerged during the 1970s and gained widespread popularity in the course of the 1980s. As of the 1990s, RJ models were a mainstream aspect of correctional practice and policy in the US and other countries across the globe. Presently, a convergence between the concepts of RJ and community justice has been fronted an alternative approach to responding and thinking about crime in society. Those supporting the use of RJ in the criminal justice system maintain that members of the community have a pivotal role in coping with consequences of criminal acts, bettering public safety, and advancing the goals and objectives of the criminal and social justice. This paper explores RJ, namely its history, forms of current RJ practice, RJ and corrections, challenges and issues for the RJ model.

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History of RJ

RJ is not a novel concept. Restorative tactics to crime and justice can be traced back to thousands of years. For instance, in Rome, convicted thieves were forced to pay twofold the value of the goods they stole. The Brehon Laws applied in Ireland (Old Irish) practiced compensation as a form of justice for the majority of crimes. In England, restorative principles formed the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon law prior to the arrival of Normans. Restorative values were integrated into diverse legal traditions such as Roman law. Furthermore, some of the earliest written laws such as the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu, Babylonian Code of Hammurabi and the Pentateuch used in Israel contained the elements of restorative justice. The majority of traditional justice systems used in Asia and Africa were also based on RJ principles. The justice system used by Native Americans and Aboriginal communities draw upon reparation and restoration. Justice in Aboriginal communities is intricately related to the religious framework and daily lives of people affected by the justice system whereby restorative circles are used in resolving conflicts and criminal acts. The RJ philosophy advocates for diverse human attributes such as mercy, forgiveness, compassion, healing, reconciliation, mediation, and sanctions when needed. Based on this, it is evident that the current trend towards RJ is not a new idea; instead, it is a revival of a historically prevalent tactic used in combating crime. The current justice system has been in place for a few centuries. In contrast, the RJ model has been used for much of Western history. Many authors agree that the RJ approach towards criminal justice has been in use for the bulk of human history.

In the course of the 1970s, a movement emerged advocated for the protection of the offenders’ rights as well as for reduction in incarceration and improving the conditions of correctional institutions. It was primarily driven by the discovery in sociology that adverse social conditions played a large part in influencing criminal behavior. This finding concurred with the movement that was against adversarial legal action as the only approach towards resolving conflict. Consequently, processes such as negotiation, arbitration, and mediation were prevalent in the family and civil law. Furthermore, there were heightened calls for the criminal justice system to offer the victims more significant voice as regards the criminal justice process.

Albert Eglash first coined the phrase restorative justice in 1977 in his work, Beyond Restitution: Creative Restitution (Helfgott, n.d.). He outlined three forms of justice, which included restorative, distributive and retributive justice (Helfgott, n.d.). During the 1980s, the doctrines of restorative justice gained extensive recognition. As of the 1990s, RJ had become an important aspect of correctional practice and policy in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US as well as other nations across the globe (Helfgott, n.d.; Johnstone, 2011). Support for RJ came from multiple movements, including the increasing dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system among the public, critical criminology, the rights of victims movements, feminist criticism of the male-controlled justice system, and the change towards the use of community justice efforts such as community corrections and community policing (Wachtel, 2014). The increase in the crime rates, the widespread view that correctional system was not effective in lessening the rates of recidivism, and public activism necessitated the need to revise the criminal justice system (Helfgott, n.d.). Aforementioned factors played an integral role in setting the groundwork for the adoption of a new justice model.

Defining RJ

Contrary to the retributive justice model used in the U.S. criminal justice system, those supporting RJ consider crime as the harm that should be repaired using a holistic process that involves the public, delinquents, and victims. Under this model, the role of the government is to preserve order while the role of the community is to restore peace. RJ seeks to tackle the inherent antipathy in interests, needs, and rights of victims and offenders using practices, policies, and programs designed with the aim of restoring the communities, offenders and victims affected by delinquency.

The RJ approach can be characterized by numerous features, including a whole understanding of the delinquent; emphasizing reintegration and not stigmatization using repentance and forgiveness; recognizing the accountability of the offender and the rights of victim; involvement of the community in crime issues; using social action; resolving acts of crime using reparation, restitution, negotiation, and dialogue; emphasizing problem-solving; and defining crime as a harm. Other principles of RJ include providing the victim with an opportunity to play a key role in the criminal justice process and an inclusive justice process. Furthermore, under the RJ model, conflict and crime are considered to affect relationships between people rather than between the state and people.

Some concepts related to RJ and often used interchangeably with RJ include real justice, transformative justice, responsible justice, balanced justice, indigenous justice, relational justice, and community justice. Recently, convergence has been observed between community justice and restorative justice giving rise to restorative community justice, which indicates the shift towards increased involvement of the community throughout the various phases of the justice process.

Current Forms of RJ Practice

Presently, three models of RJ practice are dominantly used, namely circles, family group conferences (FGC) and victim-offender conferences (COC). FGC was first used in New Zealand during the 1980s, and they act as the main approach to justice for juveniles in the countries. Circles, known as peacemaking circles, originated from First Nation communities found in Canada. Victim Offender Mediation (VOM), Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) and Victim Offender Conferences (VOC) are the most common forms of circles. These programs were initiated during the 1970s in Canada and the US, which involve bringing the offender and the victim to dialogue under a trained mediator to resolve and heal harm attributed to the crime. Moreover, the offender may be requested to offer some form of monetary reparation. Circles, conference