Beyond the Courts – RJ for newcomers

The key paradigm of restorative justice

In a conventional criminal justice system, crime is often defined as being perpetrated against the state. One major deficiency within this definition is the fact that the victim is often not taken into consideration. When ‘justice’ is accomplished in any given law case, the offender generally receives a custodial sentence, while the victim and the community where the crime is perpetrated are removed from the picture. A restorative justice model turns the situation around and seeks to meaningfully consider the needs and trauma of victims and the larger community, recognising them as important figures on the pathway to justice. How does a restorative justice model change how this looks?

“Since justice should seek to put right, and since it is victims who have been harmed, restorative justice must start with victims.”

The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr with Ali Gohar

In 2003 Howard Zehr and Ali Gohar clarifyingly suggested that our current legal systems unhelpfully focus on what offenders have done and the sentences, or punishments, that they deserve. In contrast, a restorative justice mentality urges society to reorientate its focus and consider the needs of the victims, communities, and offenders as a higher priority. This change of vision causes a reconsideration of what justice looks like in each situation and what are to be upheld as important pillars in this justice process.

Two models of questioning:

What law has been broken?

Who did it?

What do they deserve?


Who has been hurt?

What are their needs?

Whose obligations are these?

The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr with Ali Gohar

When contrasted to restorative justice practice, you can very starkly see the absence of the victim in a retributive, or just deserts, judicial and penal process. Why is a victim needed in this process? According to a restorative justice paradigm, human relationship is extremely important. Every crime has implications for the people and community where it is committed – it also has implications for the offender. Amidst human relationship crime is committed, but when an offender is processed in the criminal justice system, suddenly many of the community and interpersonal ties are dramatically reduced or severed. Restorative justice considers the voices of victims, offenders, and the broader community as vital to the justice process, and conversation so profoundly serves to break down barriers that participating individuals experience.

One of the remarkable benefits of a restorative justice methodology is that it is applicable at every step of the traditional criminal justice system. Not only can it be employed prior to arrest, but it is relevant during court procedures, incarceration, and even after release. Restorative justice practices seek to give all stakeholders a voice to talk about their experiences, trauma, and expectations. Crime does not just have monetary consequences, but it also involves relational breakdown.

Over the course of the eConference, RJ World is going to be a place to come and hear stories of restorative justice in action, and to learn about the cutting edge research that is shaping the future of restorative justice practices. We hope you will join us in this endeavour to share voices, vision, and values.