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What is restorative justice?

Definitions can be artificial and run the risk of becoming obsolete very quickly, particularly if they refer to continuously evolving concepts such as restorative justice. While bearing this in mind, a glance at the extant literature will render a number of definitions for restorative justice as if it has always been a unified concept (e.g. see Marshall, 1999; Braithwaite, 2002; Gavrielides, 2008; Johnstone & Ness, 2011). Morrison (2006) argues that restorative justice has been conceived in two broad ways. One is a process conception; the other is a values conception. The process conception is characterized by a process that brings together all parties affected by harm or wrongdoing. The values conception, on the other hand, is characterised by a set of values, or principles, that distinguish restorative justice from traditional punitive state justice.

Here at RJ4All, we accept that restorative justice is “an ethos with practical goals, among which is to restore harm by including affected parties in a (direct or indirect) encounter and a process of understanding through voluntary and honest dialogue” (Gavrielides, 2007: 139). Gavrielides argues that restorative justice “adopts a fresh approach to conflicts and their control, retaining at the same time certain rehabilitative goals” (139). For Braithwaite (2002) and McCold (1999), the principles underlying this “ethos” are victim reparation, offender responsibility and communities of care. McCold argues that if attention is not paid to all three concerns, then the result will only be partially restorative.

Braithwaite (2002) spoke about three groups of restorative justice standards: constraining, maximising and emergent. Constraining standards specify precise rights and limits, maximising standards pursue restoration and justify the constraining standards and emergent standards are gifts that are given in the process of restorative justice and may include apology and remorse. Christie (1977) argued that restorative justice returns conflicts as property to individuals and communities, taking them away from the state and lawyers. He argued that the state has stolen the conflict between citizens, and that this has deprived society of the opportunities for norm-classification.