Restorative Justice

A. Repairing Harm

The first core outcome is associated with the overarching goal/principle of repairing harm. In restorative practice, this principle gauges the extent to which the offender acknowledges responsibility for his or her actions, and is then held accountable to victim and community. The offender does this by “making amends” for the harm his or her crime has caused. This outcome dimension is grounded in exchange theories that emphasize the importance of reciprocity in human interaction. A second core outcome associated with the principle of repairing harm is the focus on rebuilding relationships damaged by crime, or helping offenders, victims, and families make new connections with positive individuals and support groups. This practice and outcome is grounded in Cullen’s (1994) social support theory, which suggests that both emotional/affective support (e.g., from family and intimates) and more tangible instrumental assistance from prosocial community members enable offenders to desist from crime, and victims to recover from the trauma of crime.

B. Stakeholder Involvement

Theories surrounding the principle of stakeholder involvement emphasize different varieties, or tendencies, in the restorative decision-making or conferencing process. These theories give priority to different intermediate intervention objectives as most important in various theories of restorative decision making. For example, a theory of healing dialogue, which claims that the “victim–offender exchange” in the conference setting (with relevant input from others in the conference) is the most critical dimension (i.e., immediate outcome) of a successful conference, gives primary weight to the power of relatively unrestricted victim–offender discourse. Another perspective related to this principle is a theory of common ground, which suggests the importance of a kind of “mutual transformation” of victim and offender as an outcome central to the ultimate resolution of harm and conflict. This dimension gives priority to the power of conflict resolution processes that build upon what is at times a small overlap in the interests of victim and offender, offender and community, and victim and community. Facilitators in a restorative process often find this overlap by close attention to change in group emotions, by respectful acknowledgement of the “other” (e.g., victim of the offender), and by recognizing and building on transition in subtle phases of the dialogue process. Also aligned with the stakeholder involvement principle is the previously discussed reintegrative shaming theory, which seeks a collective “respectful disapproval” of the offender’s behavior by those who acknowledge the harm caused, while distinguishing the behavior from the offender himself or herself.

C. Community/Government Role Transformation

The need for transformation of the community/ government role and relationship in the response to crime suggested by the third restorative principle is consistent with more macro theories of social capital and informal social control. The theory and principle are best operationalized when participants in a restorative process (and their support groups, neighborhoods, and organizations) engage in “norm affirmation,” or values clarification and, in doing so, strengthen networks of support based on trust and reciprocity. These networks then form the basis for building common skills of informal social control and mutual support, and finally developing the commitment needed to exercise these skills as suggested by the theory of collective efficacy.

Another phase or dimension of community building noted in field observation of restorative processes, referred to as collective ownership, appears to emerge in restorative conferences when participants begin to take responsibility both for the case at hand, and for some of the larger local problems it exemplifies. This collective ownership may then impact willingness to take action in informal control and support based on a theory of civic engagement. The latter theory also suggests that offenders who make such a commitment, and follow through in the process of giving back by visibly making amends to their communities, are thereby able to demonstrate their value as productive citizens with something to offer to the well-being of others.

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