Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is restorative justice?
  2. Why is it called restorative justice? Who is being restored?
  3. What are some examples of restorative justice practices?
  4. How widespread is interest in restorative justice? What other jurisdictions have adopted restorative practices?
  5. What research has been conducted regarding the effectiveness of restorative justice process?
  6. Can restorative justice be used in serious cases?
  7. Is restorative justice ‘soft on crime’?
  8. What if the victim does not want to participate in a restorative justice process?
  9. Is restorative justice appropriate for “victimless” crimes?
  10. How is “community” defined for the purposes of restorative justice?
  11. Can restorative justice be used in large urban centres?
  12. How do we deal with family and societal problems identified during the restorative justice process?

 

 

1. What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice is a way of thinking about crime and conflict. It is not a particular practice or type of program, but rather a philosophy, or a set of principles. The United Nations Working Group on Restorative Justice defines it in the following way: a process whereby parties with a stake in a particular offence resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.

Restorative justice processes worldwide are premised on the following principles:

  • holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way
  • repairing the harm caused by the offence
  • achieving a sense of healing for the victim and the community
  • reintegrating the offender back into the community

 

2. Why is it called restorative justice? Who is being restored?

Restorative justice is concerned with the construction of a better society for both the present and the future. Some of the goals of restorative justice are listed below:

  • tries to repair the harm to the victim (but recognizes that it is not always possible to replace what the victim has lost)
  • aims to restore the offender to a law-abiding life
  • hopes to restore any damage sustained in the community

 

3. What are some examples of restorative justice practices?

Victim-Offender Mediation

Victim-offender mediation occurs when victims and offenders meet face-to-face in the presence of a trained facilitator. The parties have an opportunity to talk about the crime, to express their feelings and concerns, to get answers to their questions, and to negotiate a resolution. Support people for both the victim and offender may be present, however, they do not normally participate in the discussion.

Family Group Conference

A family group conference also involves a face-to-face meeting between the victim and offender. A family group conference, however, engages a larger group of participants, which includes the support people for both the victim and the offender, relevant professionals, the facilitator, and the investigating officer. All participants have an opportunity to talk about the crime, to express their feelings and concerns, and to get answers to their questions. All participants can also express opinions on how the offender should make amends.

Sentencing Circle

A sentencing circle involves the same participants as a family group conference, as well as the presiding judge, Crown attorney, and defence counsel. As with the other models, each participant is given an equal opportunity to participate. Everyone works together to arrive at a plan for the offender which will repair the harm caused by the offence. A circle goes beyond developing a sentence for the offender, and engages the support of all participants to assist the offender in fulfilling the terms of the plan.

 

4. How widespread is interest in restorative justice? What other jurisdictions have adopted restorative practices?

  • The oldest practice of restorative justice, victim-offender mediation, had its roots in the Kitchener-Waterloo of Ontario in the 1970's.
  • By 1990, a NATO-supported conference was held to examine growing interest in restorative justice.
  • In 1996, New Zealand adopted legislation mandating the use of restorative practices in young offender cases.
  • Many jurisdictions, including Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and European countries have adopted restorative justice programs.

 

5. What research has been conducted regarding the effectiveness of restorative justice process?

Research regarding the effectiveness of restorative justice to affect systemic change in the criminal justice system has been limited. However, there have been several important studies regarding specific restorative justice processes, such as victim-offender mediation and family group conferencing.

The research finds the following:

  • victims who meet with their offenders are far more likely to be satisfied with the justice system's response to their case than those who go through the normal justice process
  • after meeting the offender, victims are significantly less fearful of being revictimized
  • offenders who meet with their victim are far more likely to fulfill the agreed upon restitution with regard to the victim of their crime
  • considerably fewer and less serious crimes are subsequently committed by offenders who meet their victim

 

6. Can restorative justice be used in serious cases?

The Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program is not intended to replace the current criminal justice system. It does, however, have the potential to meet needs that are not currently being met by the existing system. For instance, the need for reconciliation and healing exists for all offences, regardless of their severity. In serious cases, where the loss to the victim is more profound, restorative justice has been found to be more meaningful for victims, community members, and offenders.

It's important to remember that with these serious offences, a conviction must be entered, or a sentence passed, before a referral can be made to the Program. Restorative justice is not necessarily about avoiding incarceration. There is also no guarantee that participation in a restorative justice process will result in a ‘lighter’ sentence than the normal court process would.

 

7. Is restorative justice ‘soft on crime’?

Restorative justice offers a more demanding, active, and clear opportunity for offenders to be held directly accountable to the victim and the community they have harmed. Rather than being soft on crime, restorative justice requires the offender to behave more responsibly by making amends to the victim and community.

Some would suggest that it is more difficult for an offender to meet face-to-face with the victim of their crime than to proceed through the criminal justice system. In the traditional system offenders are not required to accept responsibility for their actions, are not held accountable for their actions, and are not required to explain their actions. Many offenders proceed through the system with a lawyer who speaks on their behalf.

 

8. What if the victim does not want to participate in a restorative justice process?

Participation in the Program is completely voluntary for all participants.

One of the primary goals of the Program is to increase victim satisfaction in the system by giving them an active role in the justice process. Every effort will therefore be made to provide the victim with the information, preparation, and support they need in order to participate in a restorative justice process.

If a victim does not want to participate in a restorative justice process, others including family or community members could participate on their behalf. These individuals could speak to the impact the crime has had on them.

 

9. Is restorative justice appropriate for “victimless” crimes?

Certain offences, such as drug offences, are often called “victimless” crimes. They do, however, have a dramatic effect on an entire community. In cases such as this, representatives from the community in general, or a citizen’s group, could participate in a restorative justice process and speak about the effect the crime has had on the community.

 

10. How is “community” defined for the purposes of restorative justice?

The term community, as used in restorative justice, is not necessarily a physical or geographic region. Community is defined as the "community of the incident" including:

  • family members
  • key support people
  • significant others for each party who have been impacted by the offence

 

11. Can restorative justice be used in large urban centres?

Yes and with great success. Large urban centres often have the benefit of having a more comprehensive network of resources to which offenders and victims can be referred.

 

12. How do we deal with family and societal problems identified during the restorative justice process?

Restorative justice focuses on identifying the underlying causes which may have led to the offender committing a crime. The following conditions are important:

  • identifying key support people who can assist the offender in addressing some of the personal issues which led to the offence
  • raising awareness within a community about the conditions in that community which might have led to the offence
  • referring both the offender and victim to appropriate community resources to deal with issues that are identified in the process

Restorative justice provides an opportunity for the justice system to start working more collaboratively with other service providers, such as schools, health organizations, child protection agencies, and other social service agencies, in an effort to address the underlying causes of crime.