What is Restorative Justice? - Definition, Examples & Process Video

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  • 0:01 Dealing With Crime & Disorder
  • 1:22 Examples of…
  • 3:11 Assumptions & Expectations
  • 4:16 The Restorative…
  • 4:59 Efficacy of…
  • 6:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robert Swan

Robert has taught college-level criminal justice courses and has a Masters degree in Criminology and a Doctorate in Public Policy.

In this lesson, you will review and consider the basic assumptions of restorative justice approaches and processes in the American criminal justice system.

Dealing With Crime and Disorder

Imagine that you're a homeowner who's awakened one morning to find offensive images spray-painted on your garage door. Your neighbor tells you he witnessed local teenagers committing this act of vandalism late the previous evening. Disturbingly, you know these kids, most of whom you have had positive relationships with for some years. What do you do?

In the American criminal justice system, there are few options:

  1. You can do nothing (a common response, as we can see, by looking at the low reporting rate for property crimes in the U.S.).
  2. You can call the police and file a formal complaint, which will likely involve an arrest and the offenders being punished if found guilty.

There is another way to handle this situation, though: restorative justice, which can be defined as a community and victim-centered sentencing philosophy that emphasizes offender accountability and responsibility through negotiated restitution. With this option, the formal criminal justice process is avoided, and the teenagers are asked to acknowledge their offense, apologize, and repair the damage.

In this lesson, you'll be given examples of restorative justice in action. You'll also explore the basic assumptions of restorative justice and its potential as an alternative way of achieving justice.

Examples of Restorative Justice

Most criminal justice systems view crime as an offense against both the individual and the community. Restorative justice is no different in that respect, but it's a philosophy of justice that moves away from broad, retributive punishment approaches (like long jail or prison sentences) by emphasizing the offender's direct responsibility for repairing the damage they have done. Restorative justice processes are especially effective when it comes to property crime, because victims are more likely to receive compensation for their property losses than if the offender had been incarcerated. In fact, it's highly unlikely that the victim would be compensated at all if the offender were incarcerated.

Simply, restorative justice approaches are a more personal and localized approach to justice. For example, some schools in Minnesota and Colorado use these practices to deal with student drug and alcohol abuse in order to avoid more formal and punitive sanctions, like expulsion or arrest and incarceration. These programs connect students with local community members so they can gain a better understanding of the harm that their drug and alcohol abuse has done to the community.

These approaches have been used in graffiti crime cases as well. In Jackson County, Oregon, the Restorative Works organizational website highlighted three boys who were involved in ''tagging'' local area property. All three boys were given the opportunity to meet with affected community members, accept responsibility for their crime, listen to the concerns of community members, and apologize. In this case, the three boys wrote public letters of apology that were printed in the local paper.

Restorative justice can take many forms in the United States and around the world. However, in whatever form, it shares a few common assumptions and expectations.

Assumptions and Expectations

To be effective, restorative justice approaches must emphasize offender accountability; in other words, the criminal offender must take responsibility for their action and be genuinely sorry for what they have done. Approaches don't involve a trial, lawyers, judges, or pleas of innocence or guilt. Rather, the offender is required to admit to their behavior so that reparations can be negotiated through mediation.

The reparation concept is a key element that means the individual offender will willingly repair the harm they have done. This might include paying financial compensation to victims, physically repairing property damage, and/or publicly apologizing for the damage their crime has caused.

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