Restorative justice is an alternative to the criminal justice system that tries to repair the harm caused by crime and encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions. Restorative justice can be both an alternative and a complement to the traditional justice system.
Restorative justice is different from the criminal justice system
There are several major differences between the criminal justice system and restorative justice. First, restorative justice does not use judges and trials to decide guilt and punishment. Instead, restorative justice aims to repair the harm caused by a crime. Harm could mean the victim’s emotional pain, physical pain, or financial loss. It can also mean harm caused to the community and the offender themselves.
Restorative justice is flexible and depends upon the needs of the participants
Restorative justice is a process that may or may not include a meeting between the perpetrator and the victim. Reparation can also take different forms. For example, it may be financial or symbolic, such as an apology. Sometimes the process of communicating with the other person can be considered restorative. Depending on the case, reparation may be directed at the victim, the community or both.
Here are some examples of restorative justice processes:
- Mediation or dialogue meeting: this facilitates communication between the victimized person and the offender. For example, the victim may can explain the impact the crime has had their life. The goal is not necessarily to reach a settlement or forgiveness, but to express their needs and get answers to their questions. These meetings can be in person, by telephone, by video conference or in writing.
- Group meetings: for example, talking or healing circles that bring together all the people involved in a crime: the offender, the victim, close friends and family, and even other people in the community.
- Letter of apology: The offender who acknowledges their wrongdoing may write a letter of apology to the victim.
- Financial compensation: The victim can ask the offender for money to compensate for the physical or material damage (e.g., to repair broken property or to pay for therapy). The victim could also propose that the offender donate to the community, for example to a community organization whose mission is related to the offence.
- Community reparations: If the victim does not wish to participate directly in the restorative justice process, the offender can also make amends through community service.
The principles of restorative justice
Restorative justice is a flexible process that can occur at any time. There are a variety of programs in Quebec. Some programs work with victims who do not want to file a complaint with the police. Others are designed for offenders who are facing criminal charges. There are also programs that work with inmates during and after their prison sentence.
Restorative justice is never recommended when there is a risk of danger to the victim. Workers in specialized agencies can help you determine if restorative justice is safe in your situation. They must also ensure that the offender acknowledges his or her wrongdoing and takes an honest approach.
Mediators or facilitators who work in restorative justice agencies are qualified to guide you through complex and difficult situations. They receive regular training on restorative justice and on how to accompany victims.
The process is also confidential. People involved in restorative justice processes cannot disclose information that is shared during discussions or in written documents.