RJ in the Criminal Justice System

Beginning in the 1980’s, criminal justice reform efforts in the US have looked to Restorative Justice to:

  • better meet the needs of victims
  • reduce recidivism
  • improve public safety and
  • save on the rising cost of youth detention and mass incarceration

While some RJ programs focus solely on youthful offenders, other programs include adult offenders who have committed the most serious crimes.

In our current, retributive justice system acts of wrongdoing (e.g. theft, vandalism, assault) are viewed as crimes against the State (or other authority). A judge determines the appropriate punishment for the offender/perpetrator in keeping with the law. Victims, and their desire for answers and need for restitution, are not central to this process. In a restorative justice system, victims are at the center of the process. Those who have harmed someone are more directly accountable to the harmed party and participate in developing/implementing plans to best repair that harm. In addition, the community plays a role in restorative justice systems, helping to support reparation plans and to safely reintegrate those who caused harm back into the community.

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