EXCERPT 1. An Overview
How should we as a society respond to wrongdoing? When a crime occurs or an injustice is done, what needs to happen? What does justice require?
For North Americans, the urgency of these questions has been intensified by the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. The debate is an old one, though, and is truly international in scope.
Whether we are concerned with crime or other offenses, the Western legal system has profoundly shaped our thinking about these issuesnot only in the Western world, but in much of the rest of the world as well.
The Western legal, or criminal justice, systems approach to justice has some important strengths. Yet there is also a growing acknowledgment of this systems limits and failures. Victims, offenders, and community members often feel that justice does not adequately meet their needs. Justice professionalsjudges, lawyers, prosecutors, probation and parole officers, prison stafffrequently express a sense of frustration as well. Many feel that the process of justice deepens societal wounds and conflicts rather than contributing to healing or peace.
Restorative justice is an attempt to address some of these needs and limitations. Since the 1970s, a variety of programs and approaches have emerged in thousands of communities and many countries throughout the world. Often these are offered as choices within or alongside the existing legal system. Starting in 1989, however, New Zealand has made restorative justice the hub of its entire juvenile justice system.
In many places today, restorative justice is considered a sign of hope and the direction of the future. Whether it will live up to this promise remains to be seen.
Restorative justice began as an effort to deal with burglary and other property crimes that are usually viewed (often incorrectly) as relatively minor offenses. Today, however, restorative approaches are available in some communities for the most severe forms of criminal violence: death from drunken driving, assault, rape, even murder. Building upon the experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, efforts are also being made to apply a restorative justice framework to situations of mass violence.
These approaches and practices are also spreading beyond the criminal justice system to schools, to the workplace, and to religious institutions. Some advocate the use of restorative approaches such as "circles" (a particular practice that emerged from First Nation communities in Canada) as a way to work through, resolve, and transform conflicts in general. Others pursue circles or "conferences" (an effort with roots both in New Zealand and Australia, and in facilitated victim-offender meetings) as a way to build and heal communities. Kay Pranis, a prominent restorative justice advocate, calls circles a form of participatory democracy that moves beyond simple majority rule (see pages 50-51 for a fuller explanation of circles as understood in the restorative justice field).
In societies where Western legal systems have replaced and/or suppressed traditional justice and conflict-resolution processes, restorative justice is providing a framework to reexamine and sometimes reactivate these traditions.
Although the term "restorative justice" encompasses a variety of programs and practices, at its core it is a set of principles, a philosophy, an alternate set of guiding questions. Ultimately, restorative justice provides an alternative framework for thinking about wrongdoing. I will explore that framework in the pages that follow, and look at how it could be put to use. [continued] © Good Books, Intercourse, PA 17534
"How should we as a society respond to wrongdoing? When a crime occurs or an injustice is done, what needs to happen? What does justice require? "Victims, offenders, and community members often feel that justice does not adequately meet their needs. Justice professionals frequently express frustration as well. "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."
from The Little Book of Restorative Justice
Howard Zehr, known worldwide for his pioneering work in transforming our understandings of justice, here proposes workable Principles and Practices for making restorative justice both possible and useful.
Zehr is the author of the formative work, Changing Lenses, and of the photo-essay books Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims; and Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences.