17. Restorative, Transformative Justice
There are many benefits of restorative justice for all the justice stakeholders involved. These benefits have been addressed throughout the chapter and are summarised below under the headings: benefits for victims/survivors, benefits for offenders and benefits for the community.
Benefits for victims/survivors include:
- information and answers to questions
- direct accountability from the person who caused harm
- influence, choice and voice in determining how the harm will be addressed
- restitution, reparation and vindication
- opportunities to be heard and understood
- community support
- increased satisfaction with justice
- opportunities for meaningful direct or indirect communication with others involved
Benefits for offenders include:
- opportunities to start to make things right and be accountable
- encouragement for personal transformation and support in addressing underlying issues
- community reintegration and support
- opportunities for meaningful direct or indirect communication (exchange of letters, messages, videos, etc.) with others involved in the harm
Benefits for community members include:
- increased sense of safety
- reduced re-offending
- inclusion in the justice process
- strengthening the sense of community and building relationships through participation in justice
As with any theory of criminal justice, restorative justice has limitations and is subject to criticism. One set of critiques concerns the lack of support and awareness within the criminal justice system and among the general public for an approach to justice that differs from the “norm” in Canadian society. Because transformative approaches reject punishment and retribution as primary goals, some people perceive that it is “soft on crime.” Criminal justice stakeholders trained in and conditioned to the punitive system may resist adopting new practices. There could be a lack of support and awareness from the criminal justice system and citizens including resistance from criminal justice and correctional personnel.
Another criticism concerns the practicality of shifting an entire criminal justice system to a new paradigm. Just as the criminal justice system is not the most appropriate response for every case, the same is true for restorative justice. Restorative justice initiatives have many components and involve the participation of multiple stakeholders; the costs of establishing and maintaining such a system at the national level would exceed current governmental budgets. As a result, current restorative justice programs in Canada are limited in scope and often rely on volunteers.
Net widening is also a critique of restorative justice in that the mere establishment of restorative justice programs means that more people might be processed through the system. For example, if restorative justice programs did not exist, in many cases justice professionals would give a warning and not proceed through the criminal justice process. With the addition of restorative justice programs, cases that would have otherwise been excluded from the system are now being processed.
Although restorative justice addresses many of the harms caused by contemporary criminal justice, it poses possible risks of its own. Lacking established and universally agreed-upon standards of practice, participants may experience inconsistent processes in different jurisdictions and facilitators with varying levels of expertise, which may cause harm or lessen faith in the fairness and efficacy of the system. Broad community involvement is a key component of restorative justice theory; any system that labels itself “restorative” but limits the stakeholders who may participate risks reproducing inequalities of centralised state power. In some situations, victims or offenders could be coerced or pressured by justice professionals to participate, which jeopardises the voluntary nature of restorative justice. For example, a young offender could be given the choice of participating in a restorative process or “taking their chances” in court with a judge. This is hardly a choice and certainly not voluntary. Finally, because many restorative principles originate in the traditional practices of Indigenous and other cultures, there is a risk of cultural appropriation and disrespectful distortions that perpetuate the exploitation and oppression of marginalised peoples.