What is restorative justice? RJ is sometimes portrayed as people sitting in a circle, crying over their feelings and apologizing to everyone, with the end result of everyone “hugging it out.” It can be seen as weak because it doesn’t always result in punishment for the person who offended or caused harm.
In reality, RJ is none of these things. It is a powerful justice system that is especially effective with youth and adults who are able to take accountability for their behaviour, their actions, and their words and who genuinely wish to help make amends. It’s also effective for those who have been a victim of another person or persons to have their voice heard and be an active participant in the process, something for which the traditional Canadian justice system typically does not allow.
Like any system, Restorative Justice is not perfect. If the victimized individuals do not wish to take part, RJ doesn’t work. If the person or persons causing harm are not able to accept, understand, or take accountability for the harm their actions have created, then RJ does not work. If the person causing harm is dangerous and has a potential to cause further harm to others, RJ is not the right choice.
In so many cases, though, RJ is the right choice, and the best choice. It allows for closure for all parties involved, and allows for personal growth and healing. This closure, this growth, and the support created by the RJ process, decreases the likelihood of the individual causing harm re-offending, and provides them with a clear and hopeful path toward a healthy, responsible, and law-abiding life.