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Restorative Justice

Page history last edited by John McMahon 2 years, 2 months ago

What is Restorative Justice? 


     The term justice is not universal, meaning that depending on who you ask and the societal factors that play a part in making them who they are, the answer will differ. To one, justice could simply mean liberty for all, to another justice could mean everyone is given equal opportunities despite their ethnic background, culture, race, sexual orientation etc. To philosopher John Locke, justice includes the right to own property and the right to protect oneself and their property. This contradicts another theory of what justice should include because, Civil Rights activist W.E.B Du Bois argued that what is to be considered “just” should come from those who are oppressed. He was referring to Black people, who at the time did not have the rights to own land or property. If justice should include the opinions of the oppressed, why weren't they also allowed to own land/property? Overall, this concept of justice and what it means to be just is something that is the foundation of this country, but yet has no concrete definition and at times contradicting concepts. For citizens today, the more personal and inherent form of justice they experience is in the criminal justice system. Though all citizens experience some form of this systemic injustice, the restoration given varies depending on race and social status. This is evident through the numerous police killings of Black men and women; we can see this through the disproportionate amount of Black people incarcerated in comparison to their total population in the country. By definition, “the criminal justice system is a series of government agencies and institutions. Goals include the rehabilitation of offenders, preventing other crimes, and moral support for victims” (Wiki). Questions relevant to the injustices experienced by Black people in America today include the justness of Michael Brown being shot at 12 times by a Ferguson police officer for walking down the street? Was it also just for said officer to be indicted and cleared of his charges? Was it morally just for said officer to claim he killed an innocent Black teenager in self-defense, although he initiated the encounter? How was it just for Ricardo Muñoz and Angelo Quinto to lose their lives because police officers didn’t know how to properly address their mental illnesses? These are only a few of many cases in which the criminal justice system is going completely against its goals, though some may challenge this was how it intended to be. Some say the cause for this increase of dissatisfaction in policing could be due to the increasingly tense political climate, lack of proper police training, and plain implicit and explicit bias within the system as a whole. There are many solutions on how the country could make the justice system more just, but there are not many actions being implemented in order to see said improvements. Restorative justice is a way where communities, families, even small groups can come together and respectfully solve non-violent issues. Restorative justice not only allows a way for the community to bond and become more trustful of one another, but it would also allow for the decrease in the amount of police killings and arrests. 


     Restorative justice is a more mediated way of approaching conflict, that doesn’t involve the violence and tension officers may bring to situations. Restorative justice tactics have been used in schools more so with the majority of Black and Hispanic children, this form of disciplinary justice decreases the suspension rates of minority students. With this being said, restorative justice has been said to produce the same results in adult interactions, and could be used more as a criminal justice tactic.  


How Effective is Restorative Justice in the Criminal Justice System?


     Restorative Justice (RJ) provides an opportunity for both the victim and offender to benefit without having to through legal channels. This form of justice may be more commonly used by minorities because it allows for all parties to be heard and dealt with accordingly without having to risk death or imprisonment by police officers. The Center for Justice and Reconciliation gives a formal definition of restorative justice as “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior" (2021). It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet, although other approaches are available when that is impossible.” They continue the argument claiming that the foundational principles of restorative justice is focusing on how to repair the harm caused by a crime. This is done by connecting those that were involved to have a mediated conversation, in which the government/criminal justice agents are present to maintain order in the community and promote peace. It requires the community to be on one accord; it requires the person that committed the act to take responsibility for their actions, and it requires for police officers or first responders to be properly trained in de-escalation and mediation techniques. Law professor Elizabeth Tiarks refers to RJ as a conference in which “participants can agree on what the offender should be subject to as a result of the offending behavior. The agreement must be consensual, with all relevant parties, including the victim and offender, in agreement for this plan to be finalized” (2019). This allows the victim to give what they think is a “just” punishment, while also allowing the offender to have a say in the discipline they are going to receive. In turn, this is also a more cost-efficient way of justice instead of families and victims having to use money for attorneys, court fees, and other legal procedures. This would allow for more tax-paying dollars to go into rehabilitation facilities, and mental health care facilities. The Restorative Justice Council posted a 2001-2008 study published by the University of Sheffield in which they found that RJ led to a 14% decrease in re-offenses, and that 62% of the victims were satisfied and felt better after meeting with their offenders. We can look closely at the benefits of RJ through its implementation in public schools, and its correlation with the school-to-prison pipeline. In schools where there are majority of Black and Hispanic students, there happen to be a heavier police presence either in or outside of the school. There has been a direct relation between the police presence and the amount of out-of-school suspensions given to students of color in comparison to white students. For example, Black students are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than White students, between 2013 and 2014 13% of Black students were suspended, in comparison to 3% of White students. Professor Hani Morgan shared a study that was done in Texas, proving that through the implementation of RJ that in-school suspension rates decreased 70% and out-of-school suspensions decreased 77% (2021). 


     There are some critics who claim that RJ is not as beneficial as it is hoped to be. Morgan argues that through RJ, revictimization could reoccur. He argues that “Victims of violent crime often feel that having contact with the offender could lead to revictimization rather than lead to healing” (Morgan 2021). Critics argue that victims of violent crime may experience more harm than good through this form of justice. Criminologist John Brathwaite shares reasons as to why RJ is and is not effective, arguing that RJ practices can oppress offenders with a tyranny of the majority. He states that by promoting a sort of vigilante justice, would in fact “empower communities to kill offenders and more commonly punish them corporally” (Brathwaite 1999). In other words, Brathwaite argues that by promoting RJ without having proper mediation or state oversight could end up being worse than just letting the case go through the criminal justice system. Another argument critics make is that RJ does not solve the structural imperfections of the government and state. Though it allows the community to grow and become empowered, it doesn’t disrupt the state enough to cause institutional change such as constitutional ratification, economic reconstruction, and the World Trade Organization being reformed (Brathwaite 1999). Overall, there is not enough research on RJ and its effects on adult interactions and conflicts. Most of the research done on RJ has either been done through children/public schools or in other countries, some argue that this form of justice will actually leave minorities at a disadvantage, because the social status of the parties could jade the choice of discipline being used. 


New York State Defenders Association Restorative Justice Program and Restorative Justice Initiative 


     John Cutro is a Restorative Practitioner, meaning that he studies and practices forms of RJ. He is also the director of the Restorative Justice Program (RJP) with the NYS Defense association. Cutro claims that “(RJP) seeks to end cycles of violence and abuse at a community level, decrease incarceration and promote healing using restorative and trauma-informed practices”. The RJP “conducts RJ case sessions and trains RP and RJ practitioners in public defense, probation, prosecution, schools, social services and health, as well as community groups, to create Community Restorative Practitioner Teams” (Cutro).  In other words, he trains his staff to properly handle and situate incidents under these varied circumstances, using restorative practices. There's another organization in New York City called the Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI) which is “a citywide, multi-sector network of practitioners, advocates and community members seeking to increase support for, and access to, restorative justice approaches for all New Yorkers” (Dashman). Both of these organizations aid the development and broader use of RJ because they both promote the practice to be a more constructive way of justice. The NYS Defenders Association provides a legal foundation for the practice of restorative measures, it allows for them to advise those seeking defense for the criminal justice system, to first attempt to mend the wrong doing among themselves first. The RJI provides a basis for people to grow their support networks for RJ, it shares multiple organizations who fight for and as well promote RJ just showing the solidarity across the country for the concept. 


Utilitarianism- John Mill


     Philosopher John Mill comes the closest to what restorative justice should entail; he does this in his book on Utilitarianism where, in chapter 5,  he attempts to connect justice and utility. In this chapter, Mills aims to give justice a definition, but instead just goes over what it is and is not. For example, he first argues that a law can not be the concrete guideline of what is just. Mill argues that there are certain laws that are unjust and meant to be broken, he then argues that it is unjust to deprive someone of what they have the moral right to possess. Mill proceeds to add that it is just for a person to receive “what they deserve”, in other words if you do good things then good things will come to you. In addition, Mill makes the argument it is unjust to break a contract or verbal agreement and it is also unjust to capitalize on someone else’s downfall. Mill argues that “the feeling of justice might be a peculiar instinct…to be controlled and enlightened by a higher reason” (Mill 1861/1863). Overall, one can conclude that Mill saw justice as something that as humans we naturally know, something that is instinctual. He would also argue that when deciding the just punishment for an offender, you must not take advantage of the opportunity, but come to a decision that would promote overall happiness. This relates to RJ because it allows people of a community to use their natural instincts, and be the proper judge of whether a punishment is just in comparison to the crime committed. RJ also promotes a sense of satisfaction/happiness that Mill would argue is vital to the utility of the state. RJ does this by allowing there to be a common solution in which each party benefits in some way, and Mill would emphasize this power needs to be controlled in order to maintain the equity of justice given. 




     In all, Restorative Justice is a practice that allows for communal healing and trust. It gives citizens the ability to mend relations, and provide the right services and disciplinary action needed. It would lead to a decrease in police and community interactions, it would promote trust between citizens because RJ forces victims to face their offenders and provide them with the punishment they deem necessary. This not only empowers the community by emphasizing their freedom of choice, but it also would cause a decrease in the incarceration rate for certain offenses such as burglary, assault, domestic violence. RJ is also proven to lower the rate of second time offenders, meaning that the mediation prevented offenders from committing the same crime again. Currently RJ is being used in public schools that have a majority population of minority students (Black and Hispanic students), studies are showing that the increased implementation of RJ causes there to be a decrease of in-school and out-of-school suspensions. Restorative practices have the ability to save lives and promote communal, police and civic relations.    


Work Cited: 


En.wikipedia.org. 2021. Criminal justice - Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_justice> [Accessed 13 December 2021].


Restorative Justice. 2021. Lesson 1: What Is Restorative Justice?. [online] Available at: <http://restorativejustice.org/restorative-justice/about-restorative-justice/tutorial-intro-to-restorative-justice/lesson-1-what-is-restorative-justice/#sthash.KA6EJLrv.WlLodJxQ.dpbs> [Accessed 13 December 2021].


Tiarks, E., 2019. Restorative Justice, Consistency and Proportionality: Examining the Trade-off.

 [online] Available at: <https://web.p.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=d158e859-64f8-4458-b1ae-02d39f37f294%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=138295550&db=f5h> [Accessed 13 December 2021].


Restorativejustice.org.uk. 2021. MoJ evaluation of restorative justice | Restorative Justice Council. [online] Available at: <https://restorativejustice.org.uk/resources/moj-evaluation-restorative-justice> [Accessed 13 December 2021].


Payne, A. A., & Welch, K. (2015). Restorative Justice in Schools: The Influence of Race on Restorative Discipline. Youth & Society, 47(4), 539–564. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X12473125


Morgan, H., 2021. Restorative Justice and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Review of Existing Literature. Education Sciences, 11(4), p.159.


Braithwaite, J. (1999). Restorative Justice: Assessing Optimistic and Pessimistic Accounts. Crime and Justice, 25, 1–127. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147608


Restorative Justice Initiative. 2021. Our Mission and Vision - Restorative Justice Initiative. [online] Available at: <https://restorativejustice.nyc/about/> [Accessed 13 December 2021].


Cutro, J., 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.nysda.org/page/RestorativeJustice> [Accessed 13 December 2021].

Mill, J., Lazari-Radek, K. and Singer, P., 2004. Utilitarianism. Julie Barkley, Garrett Alley. Chapter 5


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