RJ pioneer Howard Zehr addressing audience during a visit with C4RJ (left); annual visit of Nigerian Judges organized by the UMass Center for Peace, Democracy and Development (center); School Climate Specialist, Nancy Riestenberg, at a C4RJ (right).

The Restorative Justice Approach

Restorative justice is both ancient and new. It was practiced in communities around the world before laws were written down. Yet, communities like ours are still learning about it (or maybe relearning it).

To get started, here’s a basic definition:

“Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in an offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things right as possible.”

— Howard Zehr, PhD, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, 2002

There are three basic principles that all restorative justice programs subscribe to:

  • Crime is a violation of people and relationships. Yes, a law may have been broken, but the harm is primarily against people, not an abstract law or other state entity.
  • Crime creates harms, needs, and obligations. If crime upsets the balance and results in actual harms and needs, then who should be primarily obliged to restore that balance?
  • Those most affected should be meaningfully included and empowered. If John broke into Ms. Jones’s home, we should ask Ms. Jones what she wants and needs from the process.

Restorative justice can take place in many kinds of cases as long as there are willing participants and a safe environment. Dr. Zehr (quoted above) has conducted restorative justice in crimes of severe and mass violence. At C4RJ, police partners set referral criteria and typically refer adults and youth who are facing criminal charges such as breaking and entering, hate speech, assault and battery, larceny (e.g., shoplifting), vandalism, illegal substances, and trespassing.

To learn more about restorative justice and recommended readings, click here. To learn of some common misunderstandings about restorative justice, click here.