17. Restorative, Transformative Justice

17.6 Restorative Justice Models

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

Certain are justice practices are often associated with restorative, transformative justice. Although there is nothing inherently restorative about sitting in a circle or having dialogue between a victim and offender, when these models are based on restorative justice principles, the impact can be meaningful for all parties involved. For a process to move forward, several criteria must be met. In most instances, the person who caused the harm must accept responsibility for their actions and be open to making reparation. The victim/survivor must participate voluntarily and be provided voice and choice in how the process will unfold. Community members might also be included and must be informed and prepared to ensure the process itself upholds the values of respect, honesty, accountability, and safety. Some examples of processes that embody these core restorative justice principles are victim-offender dialogue, conferencing and circles.

Victim-Offender Dialogue

Victim-offender dialogue processes have been associated with restorative justice since the early 1970s. The approach involves facilitating communication between the victim/survivor and the person who caused them harm. The dialogue could be direct/face-to-face or indirect through exchanging letters or video recorded messages. A trained facilitator acts to explain the process, prepare each party, and facilitate the exchange. The encounter prioritises physical and emotional safety, meaningful dialogue, and reparation of harm. People are not expected to leave the dialogue as friends: rather, the aims are to have gained understanding of what happened, the harm caused, and what is required for reparation to begin. For an explanation of the process of victim-offender dialogue see Restorative Justice: Victim Offender Mediation Overview.

Conferencing (sometimes called Victim-Offender Conferencing or Family Group Conferencing)

Conferencing evolved from practices from many parts of the world including New Zealand and Australia. Often a process used with youth, conferences are similar to victim-offender dialogue but involve more participants. These additional people might be family members of the victim and offender and other resource people (for example victim services, youth workers, mentors, counsellors, teachers, etc.) that can support the restorative justice process. After preparation, participants come together to talk about what happened, who was impacted and how, and work together to form an agreement about how the harm can be repaired. Conferencing participants provide support to both victims and offenders, often providing accountability for the offender to complete the reparations they have agreed to.

Circles (sometimes called sentencing circles, healing circles, or peacemaking circles)

Peacemaking circles have deep roots in many Indigenous traditions and worldviews.  A more traditional peacemaking circle involved the entire community, leaders, Elders and respected knowledge holders to resolve an issue.  In current use with the Canadian criminal justice context, a peacemaking circle is a process that may bring victims, offenders, and community members together to provide input to community leaders, Elders and other decision-makers on sentencing criteria.  (i.e., sentencing circles).  These circle processes are convened to reintegrate people into the community following crime or incarceration or used instead of the formal court process. While all these models can be flexible to the needs of the participants, peacemaking circles will often bring in more holistic elements which may include opening prayers, smudge, passing a talking stick or feather to make space for all participants around the circle, and other cultural expressions that are meaningful to the group. Circles are used by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and can be adapted to meet the needs of people and communities. For an example of a circle process see Reconciliation through Restorative Justice.



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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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