Restorative justice is a relatively newly coined school of thought in the approach to seeking justice in a crime ridden world and subsequently reducing the amount of existing crime. Van Ness & Strong (2010) purports that Johnstone and Van Ness view the term as “complex” and that it is widely seen as good but to give a definition to it is not readily available off the tongues. Its complexity is due to its development especially in the latter years which is when it has begun to be looked at critically. In breaking up the term, restorative, from the root word restore, refers to getting something or in this case someone, back to a previous state. It is also synonymous to words such as heal, curate, renovate and repair. Justice refers to a state of fairness, being treated with equality and equity and in the process having the display of integrity, honesty and with respect. According to Zehr (2002) restorative justice is “a process to involve to the extent possible those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms needs and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”
Restorative justice then can be described most comprehensively and simply as put forward by Fr. Jim Consedine as cited by Jantzi (2001) to be:
…a philosophy that embraces a wide range of human emotions, including healing, mediation, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation as well as sanction when appropriate. It also recognizes a world view that says we are all interconnected and that what we do, be it good or evil, has an impact on others. Restorative justice offers a process whereby those affected by criminal behaviour, be they victims, offenders, the families involved or the wider community, all have a part in resolving the issues that flow from offending. (Jantzi, 2001, p.3)
The above definition encompasses not just what the theory dictates restorative justice is, but also the stakeholders/those affected as well as the characteristics and understandings that are necessary for the fulfilment of the theory becoming a reality. In addition to that, it establishes the human aspect therefore giving way to the notion that the practice of restorative justice does not have a cookie cutter or a standard method by which practitioners follow. They ought to be flexible as this pays respect to the humanistic nature of the stakeholders on which the phenomenon is largely dependent upon.
Van Ness and Strong (2010) were able to highlight three basic principles on which the concept stands and any definition and practicing being put forward has to be incorporating these principles to capture the true sense of what restorative justice is. According to the stated source, the first principle is that the sought justice is aimed at healing all the stakeholders (that is, the victims, offenders, and communities) injured by crime. The second principle is that all stakeholders “should have the opportunity for active involvement in the justice process as early and as fully as they wish.” Lastly, the third principle is that both the government and the community ought to be supporting justice (therefore both parties should have the same meaning of what justice is) as the government preserves “a just order” while the community “establish a just peace.” (pp. 43-46)
These principles are self-explanatory and they do coincide with Zehr (2002) outlined three pillars of restorative justice which are the foci for any practice of restorative justice should fulfil. The first pillar holds that when an infraction is made against a person, harm is created which then creates a need hence the harm must become the central focus which aids in the highlighting of the needs that were created. The second pillar then speaks to the obligations that are now created in the domino effect of the harm. Here, the offender ought to now accept full responsibility as he/she is held accountable for the initial harmful actions. Then, the third pillar gives way to the engagement of all stakeholders in the fulfilling of the needs and to aid in the restoring of all persons harmed from the offenders actions.
There are numerous established practices of restorative justice all over the world. One reason for this is that the raw practice of restorative justice has been in existence long before the modern world as it was in this method that tribes and villages used to resolve matters that were deemed “criminal”. It has been in existence since the time of aborigines such as those tribes in places such as Africa, North America (including Canada), Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe. To go beyond that, evidence of the practice in its unnamed format can be found having biblical roots (Van Ness & Zehr, 2007). Restorative justice in its current modern form is about 30 years old. The practices have transcended time to the modern world and have been proven to still work today.
Jantzi, V. E. (2001). Restorative justice in New Zealand: Current practise, future possibilities.
Van Ness, D. V., & Strong, K. H. (2010). Restoring justice: An introduction to restorative
justice. Fourth edition. New Providence, New Jersey: Matthew bender & Company, Inc.
Van Ness, D. & Zehr, H. (2007). Biblical approach to the problem of justice. Tallin: Queen’s
Zehr, H. (2002). The little book of restorative justice. United States of America: Good Books.