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Restorative Justice: The Concept

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 59 Issue: 7 Dated: (December 1997) Pages: 68-70
H Zehr
Date Published
3 pages
In presenting the principles of restorative justice as a corrections paradigm, this article compares it with the retributive justice model it seeks to replace.
At a recent consultation of restorative justice and rehabilitation specialists sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections Academy, participants agreed that two ideas are fundamental; restorative justice is harm-focused, and it promotes the engagement of an enlarged set of stakeholders. Restorative justice views crime, first of all, as harm done to people and communities. The current legal system (retributive justice) focuses on rules and laws, often losing sight of the harm done to specific victims by the offender and the offense; consequently, retributive justice makes victims, at best, a secondary concern of justice. A harm focus, however, implies a central concern for victims' need and roles. Restorative justice thus begins with a concern for victims and how to meet their needs, for repairing the harm as much as possible, both concretely and symbolically. A focus on harm also implies an emphasis on offender accountability and responsibility. Too often accountability has been viewed as punishment under the retributive justice model. Little under this model encourages offenders to understand the consequences of their actions or to empathize with victims. Accountability further means taking responsibility for making things right with victims and the community as far as possible. This implies a primary focus on offender restitution, through money and services, to victims and the community. Underlying the practice of restitution is the aim to achieve healing for the harm done and responsibilities breached. Society rarely achieves justice that is fully restorative. A realistic goal is to move as far as possible toward a process that puts victims, offenders, and members of the affected community, along with their respective needs and roles, at the center of the search for a justice that heals.