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