Restorative justice is a victim-focused, community-based approach for responding to crime that focuses on the harm that was caused and what needs to happen to make things better. The goal is to build understanding, encourage accountability, and provide an opportunity for healing.
According to Vermont Title 28, Section 2A, “It is the policy of this state that principles of restorative justice be included in shaping how the criminal justice system responds to persons charged with, or convicted of, criminal offenses… The policy goal is a community response to a person’s wrongdoing at its earliest onset, and a type and intensity of sanction tailored to each instance of wrongdoing.”
Restorative justice addresses a criminal act in the context of the people harmed and the community affected, rather than as an offense against an impersonal “state.” People who offend cause harm to other people, the community, and themselves. Restorative justice facilitates the mending of these relationships and helps prevent further offending.
Restorative justice is rooted in the following principles:
Crime is a violation of people and relationships.
Crime harms the whole community, and harm creates obligations.
Justice involves community members helping those who caused harm to take responsibility and make things as right as possible for victims and other affected parties.
Resolution must include active participation by the individuals most directly involved — victims, people who offended, and community members — who may be supported by friends, family, and the community in an effort to resolve the matter.
Benefits of Restorative Justice
With restorative justice processes, success is measured not by how much punishment is given, but by how much harm has been repaired or prevented. Restorative justice offers a multitude of benefits, from the empowerment of individuals to cost savings for communities.
Benefits to the community
Reduced recidivism. Restorative justice has a high rate of success in reducing repeat offenses. When communities reintegrate their citizens after harm has been repaired, the likelihood of recidivism is greatly reduced. People who have offended have the opportunity to make things right, learn from the process, and put the matter behind them, so they can more easily go on to lead a crime-free life.
Increased safety. With reduced recidivism comes a safer community. Restorative justice empowers individuals to make their neighborhoods and towns safer and more pleasant places to live.
Cost effectiveness. A restorative approach to crime saves the state money by preventing individuals from becoming part of the criminal justice system for offenses that can be resolved at the local level with community and victim participation.
A stronger community. In addition to enhancing the safety and well being of a town or region, Community Justice Centers help to establish a more active citizenship. Volunteering has been shown to build stronger and more cohesive communities and increase the social networks within towns and neighborhoods.
Those who go through a restorative justice process
Gain an understanding of the aftermath of their actions: --"I realized that I had harmed more people and businesses than I was aware of. One bad decision can have enormous repercussions." --"This was especially hard for me because I have a hard time with confrontation, but hearing what [the victims] had to say meant a lot to me. I will always remember this."
Make a plan to make better choices in the future: --"[I'm going to] take my meds, ask for help, forgive myself and remember those affected." (Offense: counterfeiting) --"I took the time to understand how this affected my community ... and made financial limits for myself so this wouldn't happen again." (Offense: passing bad checks)
Take responsibility by making amends: --"Because of the thought that I had to put into the writing of these [apology] letters ... I really understand the damage I had done to other people." --"The Rep Board taught me how to be accountable for my actions and to not just consider those that I immediately affected. This was a great chance for me to make amends." --"Trying to help make amends to the victims is good for them and for me because it gives them a chance to tell me how they feel."
Benefits to victims
Empowerment. When victims are offered the opportunity to have a safe and facilitated dialogue with the person who harmed them, they feel empowered and invested in the process. Victims’ needs are acknowledged and considered, which gives them a voice in an often impersonal system.
Meaningful dialogue. Victims are given the opportunity to explain how they were harmed, get answers to their questions, and state what they need the offender to do to make amends.
Recovery and satisfaction. Restorative justice boasts a high rate of victim satisfaction. Many are able to recover what was taken from them, whether it be material possessions or their sense of security and peace of mind. They are more likely to be able to move on from the incident and get back to their daily lives.
Benefits to people who offend
An opportunity to make it right. People who offend have the opportunity to express remorse and apologize for their actions, benefiting themselves as well as their victims.
A way to put the incident behind them. People who offend have the opportunity to make significant and appropriate amends and then move on. They are able to return to their communities knowing that the matter is settled.
A timely resolution. The process of restorative justice is swift in comparison to the criminal justice system, so that offenders can more quickly make meaningful changes in their lives.
A high success rate. Restorative justice has a high rate of compliance or completion. Within a voluntary and non-coercive process, people who have offended tend to follow through on agreements that they have a part in creating.
Restorative Justice Makes a Difference
People affected by a crime who have participated in a Reparative Process have said:
--"I believe this person truly saw the error of her ways."
--"I found peace with the incident and all involved."
--"I really don't think we'll have a repeat offense."