Restorative Justice

“Restorative Justice is a process whereby the parties with a  stake in the particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future” – Tony Marshall, advocate,

Restorative Justice(RJ) can significantly aid in the healing  process, lead to restitution for the victim, and improve community support and cohesion.  RJ must be navigated properly and with devoted time to the conflict and insight into the roots of the problem. It is NOT a slap on the wrist approach.  Restorative Justice Circles can be rough and intimidating at first, especially for the victim, but the result is often transformative. When the needs of all people involved: victim, community, and offender are addressed and discussed, then eventually goals are made to meet those needs with a corresponding effort to commence restitution. Goals might also be made to make sure that these offenses happen less often or hopefully never again with community outreach.  Many positive results can emerge out of restorative practices.  The data is clear: Restorative Justice shows evidence of high victim satisfaction rate, restitution completion, and lower re-offending.

The practice of  restorative justice, in the Western World, has been implemented in judicial processes and community healing and restitution since the 1970’s as an effective process that works with a range of conflicts.  It has proven to be effective in Rio de Janeiro in extremely violent conflicts through the work of Dominic Barter. It has also gained popularity in part through the work of criminologist and professor at Australian National University John Braithwaite.  RJ concepts  date back to pre-colonial times with indigenous cultures all over the world; however the traditional Western approach to crime has dominated the judicial system in the U.S. Current studies are showing that Western Judicial philosophy, entailing  harsh punishment and retribution, may be more harmful and costly to society in certain cases. Many times victims are left out of court processes.  Our Judicial  system operates on the premise that a law was broken thus the offender must pay the state in the form of incarceration, fines, community service, etc.  The premise of RJ is that harm was done in the crime to people and therefore the reparation of that harm must involve all parties. RJ places emphasis on victim centered reparation versus state centered reparation.  Restorative justice is a practice that strengthens communities, gets offenders to acknowledge responsibility, and reduces conflict potential.  La Plata Youth Services is now offering Restorative Justice circles to strengthen the relationships of  our youth and our community by repairing harm from conflict situations.

Our process looks like this:

1. Pre-conference with offender and family members. This is a meeting to hear stories, establish ground rules and expectations of participants, and illustrate how the process will go and what roles people are playing in the circle.

2. Pre-conference with  victims and family members.

3. Pre-conference with third parties (community, police, others).

4. Consider if Restorative Justice is the proper rout for the case.  We will take into account the mindset of all parties for this step. If there is perceived danger of an ineffective and/or violent conference, we will ask that certain parties not participate or will cancel altogether.

5.Full restorative justice circle including the offender, families, victim, community, and law enforcement (if involved).

Restorative Justice is not a cure-all for crime or conflict.  Some RJ conferences and circles are not successful. Success entails a restitution contract that is agreed upon by all parties and, upon completion, the victims must be satisfied with the outcome.  This contract can be as simple as an apology and baking a pie for the victim, or as extensive as high restitution costs and community service.  The success ideally will be satisfaction of all parties.

RJ can also fail when the focus of the conference shifts from victim centered to offender centered.  Often this is an error by Facilitator, which leads the victim to feel re-victimized. Proper facilitation of conferences is crucial to success.  The situation must be appropriate for RJ and must be facilitated by trained professionals and or volunteers.  La Plata Youth Services staff has been trained in Victim-Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice.  In addition, many La Plata County residents have been trained as Victim-Offender Mediation volunteers for the courts and La Plata Youth Services.

To volunteer or for more information on volunteer opportunities with the county Restorative Justice effort please click here

For a comprehensive view of the statistics on RJ success and effectiveness please visit any of these websites:

Mark Umbriet 1998 multi site study

For more information on Restorative Justice practices here are some links:

Restorative Justice Colorado

OJJDP Restorative Justice

RJ in Schools

Philosophy and International

For Community Conflicts