"The purposes of a sentence of imprisonment or similar measures deprivative of a person’s liberty are primarily
to protect society against crime and to reduce recidivism.
Those purposes can be achieved only if the period of imprisonment is used to ensure, so far as possible, the reintegration of such persons into society upon release so that they can lead a law-abiding and self-supporting life.”
UN Nelson Mandela Rules
- In the words of psychologist James Gilligan, “punishment does not prevent or inhibit further violence; it only stimulates it.” Yet punishment powers the vengeful approach of virtually every country’s justice system today. What if a justice system were concerned not with punishing the wrongdoer but repairing and making amends to the survivor? What if the survivor, not the wrongdoer, sat at the heart of the justice system? This is the essence of restorative justice (RJ), a radically different paradigm.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that "rewarding positive behavior is more effective in producing long-term positive change than punishing negative behavior." Recent evaluations of drug treatment courts found that participants who experienced more incentives than sanctions had a reduced likelihood of recidivism. Punishment, in short, does not make us safer.
- RJ requires a shift away from punitive justice responses targeting culpable individuals, toward inclusive, dialogue-driven and community-based practices where affected parties respond to crime and other harmful acts. Restorative interventions are based on the key principles of repairing harm, including key stakeholders, and engaging communities. Restorative interventions may occur both instead of and in addition to prison-based strategies.
- Some RJ programs operate as community courts, which a 2007 University of Pennsylvania study found were more effective than prison at reducing recidivism.
- Many RJ programs involve “circles,” in which survivors and those who harmed them meet and engage in dialogue about the crime and determine a system of reparations.
- Study after study has shown that trials, public rituals though they are, are rarely therapeutic for survivors; quite the contrary, they prolong the life of traumatic wounds. A 2008 study found that far from producing closure, vengeance increases one’s unsettled aggression by making one fixate on the wrongdoer.
- A study performed by Sam Houston State University in Texas released in July 2016 based on 551 youth who were assigned to RJ or traditional court proceedings between 2000 and 2005 found that 40 percent of the juveniles committed a new offense within the average 3.5-year study period. Youth processed through juvenile courts reoffended nearly 50 percent of the time, while those in a minimal RJ educational program committed new offenses only 31 percent of the time. More intensive RJ programs also had fewer new offenses than juvenile court cases, including 24 percent for community panels, 27 percent for indirect mediation, and 33 percent for direct mediation.
- The USA’s Alliance for Safety and Justice’s 2016 national Survey of Victims revealed that 90 percent of more than 100 survivors who have been given the choice between seeing the person who harmed them in a known RJ program or in prison chose the RJ program.
- The Council of Europe, European Union, and United Nations Economic and Social Council have publicly encouraged the use of restorative practices.