For most people in the United States, justice usually can be simplified to mean that an individual is given a fair punishment for a wrong that they have committed. Typically, this justice is delivered through the criminal justice and legal system, with emotions and personal feelings considered outside the purview of providing justice. However, many believe that this approach to criminal justice is lacking. One alternative theory that attempts to address these concerns is known as restorative justice.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is a philosophy that makes the case that justice should be more than simply punishing a wrongdoing. Instead of focusing on making the criminal pay for their crime, restorative justice seeks to address the harm caused to the victim by requiring retribution that actually benefits the victim.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that traditional justice focuses on determining which laws have been broken and the established appropriate punishment, while restorative justice focuses on who has been hurt by an action, and what actions can be taken to counteract the harm that has been caused.
Restorative Justice in the US
Mediation is one of the most common examples of restorative justice in the United States. In some civil or criminal cases, the victim and the criminal can meet with a trained mediator. During these sessions, the victim can express the ways in which they have been hurt, and the criminal can explain the mindset that led them to commit their crime. While an explanation is not an excuse, understanding someone’s actions and motivation can aid in the healing process.
Often times, mediation is used as an alternative to a formal court proceeding, which can save both parties time and money. However, most importantly for restorative justice, this mediation can reduce the emotional hardship experienced by the victim and even, in some cases, the perpetrator.
Incorporating Multiple Approaches to Justice
Restorative justice is seen by many as a more holistic approach to the justice system. Instead of simply focusing on punishing wrongdoers, restorative justice works to address the mental and emotional needs of victims and criminals. If exercised correctly, restorative justice can reduce recidivism and make society a better place in the long run. Despite the potential benefits, restorative justice is just one philosophy on criminal justice that may not always be applicable, and it is important to note that, in many legal proceedings in the United States, it is not the primary objective.
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