The Effects of Restorative Justice Programming: A Review of the Empirical


There has been growing recognition in Canada that the traditional justice system is not always the most appropriate response to a significant portion of criminal behaviour. This understanding results from several distinct social changes, including an awareness of the needs of victims and a more sophisticated evaluation of the limitations of the criminal justice system. Moreover, the current reliance on incarceration as a sanction, in response to a significant number of offences, has not been overly successful in terms of rehabilitation or reintegration. In recent years, restorative justice programming, such as community conferencing and victim-offender mediation, has emerged as a method of better addressing the needs of victims, offenders and communities. Restorative justice focuses on holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way than simply imposing punishment. The major goals are to repair the harm caused by the crime, reintegrate the offender into the community and achieve a sense of healing for the victim and the greater community. The focal point of restorative justice is a face-to-face meeting between the offender, the victim and the community.

Research into restorative justice programs and practices is still in its infancy. The major goal of this paper is to examine the breadth and depth of existing empirical research. One of the more important issues in restorative justice is understanding the effects of programs on victims, offenders and communities and on the criminal justice system. Presently, we do not know whether the programs are ‘working’ and we do not know how they are impacting on the criminal justice system. This paper is a summary of our current knowledge base, as well as a method to identify gaps in restorative justice research. Criminal justice research has traditionally ascribed to the belief that recidivism is the primary criterion for measuring success. Restorative justice research, however, expands this focus by using a more comprehensive set of outcome measures including victim satisfaction, perceptions of fairness and restitution completion rates.

First, this paper provides a brief overview of restorative justice. This includes a general understanding of the historical development that has led to the popularity of restorative justice, an overview of the underlying principles and theories, and the most common practice models. Second, the effects of restorative justice programming are explored by examining the major research issues and empirical data contained in the literature. Third, identified gaps in our knowledge are highlighted and possible directions for future research are proposed.

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