17. Restorative, Transformative Justice

17.3 The Aims of Restorative Justice

Dr. Alana Marie Abramson and Melissa Leanne Roberts, M.A.

Given that restorative justice is a theory of justice, it is important to consider how restorative justice differs from the other approaches more widely understood in the legal context: rehabilitation and retribution.

Rehabilitation is a guiding principle of criminal justice practice in Canada (and in other countries around the world) and usually involves interventions that focus on reducing the risk that perpetrators will cause harm in the future. The goal of rehabilitation rests on the assumption that individuals can be guided toward a crime-free lifestyle. Professional and non-professional interventions attempt to address and correct the underlying causes of behaviour with either consent or coercion on the part of the perpetrator.  Some examples of rehabilitation include group therapy, anger management programs, substance misuse supports, and trauma or cognitive behavioural therapies.  Rehabilitation programs are available in prison and the community and are offered to both youth and adult offenders. For an example of rehabilitation in relation to Canadian federal prisons see CORCAN employment programs at Drumheller Institution.

Retribution also aims to reduce the likelihood that the offender or other would-be perpetrator will cause future harm. Rather than focusing on treatment, retribution seeks to impose a proportional amount of discomfort on an individual to create both general and specific deterrence. This discomfort is understood as essential to “teach a lesson” and give offenders what they “deserve.” Retributive justice involves the implicit assumption that those who cause harm freely choose to do so and, therefore, should be made to feel discomfort, shame, or pain as their victims might have. Retributive responses to crime include incarceration, probation (which includes limits to freedom such as curfews, and restrictions on associations and substance use), and fines.

Neither retribution nor rehabilitation attend to a central aspect of crime—the relationships that are harmed. The positive impact restorative justice approaches offer for victims, offenders, and communities can be understood through relational theory which “recognizes not only that we live in relationships with others but also that relationship and connection with others is essential to the existence of the self” (Llewellyn & Downie, 2011, p. 4). Restorative justice aims to address the relationships that have been impacted, whether they are between the victim and offender or those within families and communities. To explore this idea of relationships and how they are addressed or ignored by the different justice approaches see Restorative justice – Everything you need to know.

Retributive, rehabilitative, and restorative justice approaches are not mutually exclusive restorative justice can be explored before, during, or after rehabilitative efforts are undertaken by the offender. Restorative justice might also be more appropriate following services accessed by victims such as support groups, counselling, or other interventions focused on emotional, psychological and physical healing.



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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Alana Marie Abramson and Melissa Leanne Roberts, M.A. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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