Restorative Justice - An Overview

While traditionally criminal justice systems have focused on punishing offenders and removing them from society. Today, criminal justice systems around the world are adopting approaches that minimize the effects of crime on people and communities and prevent offenders from committing more crimes.

They include restorative justice and alternative measures.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice seeks to repair the harm caused by crime and violence by:

  • Addressing victims’ needs
  • Holding offenders meaningfully accountable for their actions
  • Engaging the community in the justice process

To achieve this, offenders must first accept responsibility for their role in an offence and the harm they have caused. Victims must also voluntarily choose to participate. Communities are given an opportunity to provide support, offer their input and assist in efforts to help the offender return to the community.

In this approach, crime is understood not only as breaking the law, but as a violation of people and relationships and a disruption of the peace in the community.

Restorative justice involves bringing together the victim, offender and some members of the community to discuss the effects of the crime. Everyone involved must agree to the meeting, at which they talk about the impact of the crime and how to address the harm that was done.

Restorative justice programs can occur at different times during the criminal process - from before a charge is laid to after someone is released from custody.

Some common restorative justice processes are:

  • Face-to-face discussions between the offender and victim, large group meetings with the victim, offender, family and supporters
  • Peacemaking or healing circles, often used within the Aboriginal community

Benefits of Restorative Justice

Most victims who participate in a restorative justice process are very satisfied with the experience and results.

Participants say they feel listened to and acknowledged, receive answers to their questions, experience an increased sense of safety and, in some cases, receive financial compensation from the offender (called restitution). Victims often appreciate the opportunity to give input into the consequences for the offender.  

Offenders have an opportunity to talk about the circumstances of the crime. And, they can fulfill their obligations to the victim and community in ways that can be more meaningful than through other criminal justice processes.

Restorative justice is not appropriate for all situations.

Restorative Justice Programs

There are approximately 92 restorative justice programs in the province and 32 Aboriginal justice programs applying restorative justice principles. To find out if there is a program available in your community call 1-604-660-5199 and ask to speak to the restorative justice coordinator.  Or email CrimePrevention@gov.bc.ca.