Restorative justice is a “new” approach based on ancient practices, unique justice values, and core principles. These justice principles guide a new justice process based on maximizing participation of core stakeholders—victim, offender, and community—and repairing the harm caused by crime. New outcomes emphasize accountability for the offender based on taking responsibility to make amends to victim and community and rebuilding or strengthening relationships of both offender and victim to their communities and supporters.
Challenges include moving beyond a programmatic approach to a holistic focus that seeks a restorative outcome in every case and uses restorative justice principles to solve major systemic problems in criminal justice and communities. Public opinion generally favors restorative justice practices, and prefers alternatives forms of accountability for most crimes. Yet, the continued commitment of U.S. policymakers to retributive punishment and to an emerging prison industrial complex that appears to be creating the societal condition sociologist Bruce Western (2007) now calls “mass imprisonment” presents formidable challenges to any progressive reform. Optimism for greater use of restorative justice is based on strong research findings indicating its effectiveness in achieving multiple outcomes for multiple stakeholders, including reduced recidivism, and victim satisfaction and healing. Moreover, the connection between restorative justice principles and evidence-based theories of change at the social-psychological, peer support, and community-building levels of intervention provides further rationales for expanding these approaches. Finally, increasing recognition of a decline in and a need for revitalization of community skills in informal crime control and positive support for prosocial behavior also set the context for greater application of restorative justice solutions.
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