Understanding Restorative Justice and its Impact on Youth
What is Restorative Justice? Sometimes, Restorative Justice ("RJ") is only partially understood. Sometimes, it is perceived only as a "less punitive" or "non-retributive approach towards meeting-out justice for a crime committed." It is much more than that. According to The Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, "the foundational principles of restorative justice have been summarized as follows:
1. Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm.
2. The people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution.
3. The responsibility of the government is to maintain order and of the community to build peace."
It is more than an admission of guilt or performing "community service" unrelated to the crime or the victim; it is more than "taking responsibility" for a crime. RJ is not offender-focused; it is, rather, in all circumstances, victim-focused.
It must also include redress for the victim through recompense by the offender and a path back into the community. It requires support and buy-in by both government, the court system and the community. Although RJ has the most impact if it involves conversation between the victim and the offender, it is not required, but that does have the best outcome for both the victim as well as the offender. The theory behind this is that to truly understand the harm caused, there must be an understanding by the offender of the degree of harm that he or she has caused, and participation in all stakeholders of the crime as well as its redress. Please note that RJ is not meant to be a screaming match or take down of the offender, although these conversations can go very deep, and most definitely require highly skilled facilitators. Types of conversations include restorative circles --peace circles, victim-offender mediation, community circles, family group conferencing, victim support circles. An excellent reference and typology can be found on this website: https://www.iirp.edu/what-we-do/defining-restorative/
RJ practitioners, who fully embrace its principles and the value of its potential, understand that this is a process that may be embraced in full or in part, and see examples, though imperfect ones, that our communities are moving in right direction. These movements include a resurgence of Youth Courts embracing RJ principles--tough in practice because, although the offender must admit his or guilt, perform community service and/or a form of restitution, which in itself puts the offender on the right path, Youth Courts are still based in the traditions of our legal system. RJ discussions happen outside the courts and these services are an either or an or--not both. But what better way to reintegrate a youth into the community through a supportive process rather than one involving probation or worse.
Another example of RJ influence is the embrace of these services to an expanded age group of youthful offenders and the age of criminal responsibility. In NYS, legislation recently "raised the age" from 16 to 17 this year, and next, it will be raised to 18.
There are opportunities to help move these processes forward--become familiar with RJ practices, become trained and certified as a mediator and/or RJ practitioner, provide community support, mentor our youth and provide more opportunities for youth to engage in positive activities.