Restorative Justice refers to a philosophy of criminal justice that seeks to understand and repair the harm that was done in a given situation, with a particular focus on restoring the victim and repairing damaged relationships, rather than on punishing the offender. Peacemaking circles, victim-offender mediation, community and family group conferencing and peer mediation are some of the ways restorative justice can be applied.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice describes restorative justice this way: “While most approaches to juvenile justice concentrate on punishing or treating delinquent youths, the restorative justice process seeks to repair the harm by involving the entire community in rehabilitating offenders and holding them accountable for their behavior.”
Restorative Justice as an Alternative to Criminal Prosecution of Children
The current juvenile justice system relies heavily on costly and harmful incarceration and punitive probation, treating black and brown children with disparate, inhumane and excessively punitive sanctions. This punitive approach has poor outcomes, high recidivism, and little victim satisfaction.
Other nations including Northern Ireland and South Africa have set positive examples for healing the wounds of violence and mass incarceration. Unjust sentencing practices have been dramatically altered in Canada and New Zealand, with a shift to restorative justice aligned with international human rights protections, including proportionality.
The Juvenile Justice Initiative is charged with addressing restorative justice trends and issues in Illinois – along with the Juvenile Justice Commission and the Balanced and Restorative Justice Initiative, the JJI is charged under HR 396 with developing recommendations to enhance the use of restorative justice for children in conflict with the law.
Restorative Justice Resources
The Adler School’s Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice published a white paper titled “Restorative Justice: A Primer and Exploration of Practice Across Two North American Cities,” examining the application of restorative justice in Chicago and Vancouver. The paper provides an overview of the history and philosophy behind restorative justice, takes a closer look at examples in Chicago and Vancouver and offers recommendations to practitioners and researchers.
The New York Times looked at a restorative justice program being used in Oakland, California schools in an article published on April 3, 2013. It describes restorative justice as an approach that “encourages young people to come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing while challenging them to develop empathy for one another…”
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice has a web page providing a description of restorative justice, including various ways it is typically applied, with links to several local programs.
North American Recommendations for Restorative Justice in Juvenile Cases and for Limiting Incarceration to Last Resort
The Juvenile Justice Initiative is a co-organizer of a working group of North American academics, government officials and advocates involved in juvenile justice policies and practices. This ad hoc working group has met three times, initially in Washington DC in Dec. of 2014, with a kick-off briefing on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the U.S. Capitol, a second time in 2015 in Toronto, Canada, and most recently in Merida, Mexico in 2019. The group also organized a consultation in New York City in 2019 on the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. One focus of the working group has been Restorative Justice, and another focus has been ensuring removal of children from their home is the last resort and for as short a time as possible. The group developed policy papers on both issues.
Go to this link, to see the North American Policy Paper on Restorative Justice: nacjj_paper_on_restorative_justice copy 2
Go to this link, to see the North American policy paper on limiting deprivation of liberty to a last resort: NACJJ Paper Making Deprivation of Liberty a Measure of Last Resort 1 copy