What is Restorative Justice?

Beyond Crime and Punishment Restorative Justice is a practical, biblical approach to the problems of crime and punishment in our society. While it has foundations in the Old and New Testaments, it is not just a Christian concept. Restorative justice is indigenous to many cultures around the world and has been practiced for millennia.

The principles of restorative justice are simple. Restorative justice recognizes that crime harms people.  It does not simply break a law.  The justice system should aim to repair these injuries. Crime is also more than a matter between the government and an individual offender. Since crime victims and the community bear the brunt of crime, they, too, must be actively involved in the criminal justice process.

Restoring Victims

The injuries that crime victims experience are significant; crime may disrupt their lives temporarily-or for as long as they live. What's more, many victims feel re-victimized by the criminal justice system itself-especially when it excludes them from much of the process.

Restorative justice promotes the need for victims' concerns to be considered in every part of the criminal justice process. Victims need help regaining a sense of control over their lives, and they need restitution to compensate for some amount of their loss.

Restoring Offenders

Restorative justice requires the system to do more than warehouse offenders. Restorative justice means holding offenders personally accountable. They need to confront the pain they have caused to their victims and take the steps necessary to overcome their criminal behavior.

Restorative justice also means delivering punishments to offenders that are proportional to the harm they committed. It means offering offenders opportunities for rehabilitation. And it means treating offenders with fairness and dignity, even when they are locked behind bars.

Restoring Communities

Crime injures the community, as well. It erodes public safety and confidence, disrupts order, and undermines common values.  Our response to crime must consider these harms.

Governments should give communities an integral role in helping offenders reenter society and in restoring peace. Communities should also take responsibility to support victims and help them reorder their lives. And, they should care for the families of offenders during their time of need.

Restorative Justice in Action

We can fulfill the principles of restorative justice with policies that:

  • Make available victim-offender mediation sessions
  • Create diversion programs that move nonviolent, minimal-risk offenders out of prison and into community-based treatment
  • Offer reentry preparation for offenders anticipating release
  • Remove barriers to offenders' successful reintegration into society-such as restrictions on residency or employment-that are not necessary to protect public safety
  • Modify prison sentence lengths to justly reflect the harm caused by the crime committed
  • Protect offenders from violence while they are in prison
  • Strengthen the families of offenders
  • Increase opportunities for prisoners' transformation by protecting their religious freedom and their access to mentoring relationships

We have suffered decades of failures in criminal justice. It is time to turn to what may seem a new and radical model but is actually a long-standing and well-proven one:  justice that restores.

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